Have you ever had someone say to you, “You are an answer to prayer?” Have you heard those words when you did something helpful with a task or listened when someone had a problem?

I have said the words, “you are an answer to prayer” when someone, unexpectedly, has given me support or encouragement at just the right time.

The Harvest is Plentiful

This week, while reading the few last verses of Matthew 9, I was reminded of a special event in my life. The scripture reads as follows:

Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore, ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.
(Matthew 9:35-38).

The event took place when I fourteen. I had told my Sunday school teacher and my pastor that I thought God wanted me to be a minister. I think the words I used were, “I think God wants me to be a preacher.”

On the Sunday after I had made my “big” announcement, my pastor stood and told the congregation that God was calling me into ministry. But he said it this way, “God has answered our prayers and has raised up another worker for his harvest, Timmy Bias.”

Send More Laborers

Since that time, this scripture has been special to me. In fact, in response to what my pastor said, I started praying, “Jesus, send more laborers into your harvest.”

When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. I can see it in my imagination. A flock of sheep milling around in a pen. Frightened and confused, stumbling blindly, bumping helplessly into one another, because they don’t know which way to turn.

Can you think of a better description of the day in which we are living? In the midst of this pandemic, we are wandering aimlessly, looking for a leader we can trust.

When Jesus saw the people, he was moved deeply. Out of his compassion he asked his followers to pray, “…ask the Lord of harvest to send out laborers into the harvest.”

Jesus, I pray that you send more laborers into the harvest.

What is your motivation?

The motivation is compassion, and most specifically the compassion you and I have experienced and received in and through Jesus. As much as we need to know and understanding some business principles, we are not a business enterprise. Our motivation is not an impressive bottom line. Our goal is not to enhance institutional pride. Our aim is not to be the biggest and the best.

Our motivation is compassion. There are people outside the walls of your church, people in the community in which your church building is located, who are lonely, confused, hungry, angry, hurting, dying. There are families who are disintegrating, young minds being destroyed by drugs, older people feeling forgotten. The need is almost overwhelming. Truly the harvest is plentiful.

In our scripture, Jesus sees the need and has compassion upon the people. He turns to his followers and says, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into the harvest.”

Your Next Step

Take just a moment to name someone in your mind right now. Someone you know who is lonely or homebound or in need of care or a listening ear? It could be someone young or someone trying to find his/her way? It might be someone who is struggling with substance abuser or is a victim of a broken family? Who do you know who is down and out or even up and out? Someone who needs compassion and care. Get that person’s face in your mind and their name on your lips.

Jesus, I pray that you send more laborers into the harvest.

Catherine Marshall, in her book A Closer Walk, tells the story of Mary and Harold. They had moved to Chicago and were alone. Even though they had each other, they had no other friends. They were so lonely; they became irritable and unhappy with each other.

One thing they still did together was to read the bible. One night they read the words of Jesus from John’s gospel, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide” (John 15:16). Somehow the light of that passage penetrated their darkness. They realized that much of their unhappiness was caused by their self-centeredness. They asked themselves, “has Jesus chosen us for some kind of service? And what would it be in a city as big as Chicago?”

The first person they encountered after this discovery was the waitress who served them in a nearby restaurant. She appeared to be frustrated and Mary asked her if she were okay. The waitress said she had just moved to the city and was miserable. Mary and Herold said they would meet her after her shift, and they would be her friends.

A neighbor who was a widower became the second person they befriended. Soon a dozen people were meeting once a week for conversation and prayer. Out of those meetings grew a project called “Adventures in Friendship.” In less than a year, they had people gathering for prayer and conversation and involved in visiting the lonely and homebound in their apartment buildings and neighborhoods.

Mary and Harold became so absorbed in the needs of others that they soon forgot their own troubles. My guess is that they never thought of what they were doing as an answer to prayer. In the name of Jesus, they were simply showing compassion to people in need.

Be An Answer to Prayer this Week

Now, do you have a person in mind? Name on your lips? Someone who needs compassion and care?

Jesus had compassion on the crowd, He said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into the harvest.”

Okay. Jesus, I pray that you send more labors into the harvest.

Will you be an answer to my prayer this week?

How are you feeling this week? You have done well in adapting to the abrupt changes brought about by the pandemic. You have discovered new ways of communicating and connecting. Just with regular use, you are perfecting the use of technology as you step into what is being called “a new normal.” As you look at the calendar, it looks like there are just a few more days to go. 

You and I can adapt to just about any situation for a short period of time.  You “have to do what you have to do.”  But this virus does not pay attention to the calendar. Have you considered that this pandemic will have you living differently for an extended period of time? Do you have a backup plan? 

Always Have a Backup Plan

I have a friend who enjoys hiking and backpacking.  When he was younger, he hiked parts of the Appalachian trail, spending several days and nights at a time alone in, what I call, the wilderness. In a recent conversation, he told me some of the best advice he received regarding hiking and backpacking comes from an older hiker who said, “Always have a backup plan.” The older hiker talked about having a mindset that could get him through if things happened in the wilderness that was unexpected. The older hiker asked, “What if you had to be out there for an extended period of time?   

My friend took the hiker’s advice to heart. He formulated an outline, a backup plan, for such situations. In our conversation, he told me the outline had been helpful both practically and spiritually in the midst of our current situation.  

Wilderness Plans

This pandemic is our wilderness.  We are going to be in this wilderness period longer than what we have planned. What is your backup plan? Here is what my friend shared with me. 

Adapt

If unexpected circumstances come your way, you need to adapt quickly. It is not easy, but it is needed. Accept the reality of your situation and move from that point. Simply bemoaning the situation does nothing. Both trusting God to help you see things as they are and leaning on God for strength and direction are key.  

Again, you have done well in adapting to the changes. The situation has called for living and leading differently and you have risen to meet the challenges by adapting. 

Adopt

Knowing that the situation might continue longer than expected, you adopt a different way of living and approach each day for what it has to offer. Because your original situation has changed, different practices, perspectives, and principles will be called for. The sooner you adopt a new way of living, the sooner your mind, body, and spirit can move forward. Trusting God to show you the path and trusting what you are learning is essential in moving forward

Now is the time to adopt new procedures and to develop different systems to carry you through to the end of the pandemic.  What have you been doing that you need to continue?  Then consider, what have you put on hold that now needs to be implemented in a different way? What new practices, perspectives, and principles need to be communicated? The time has come to adopt new ways of living and leading. 

Adept

Then you work at becoming adept or skilled at living and leading in and through these changes. The new practices, perspectives, and principles are not temporary things to be tolerated. You must begin by developing abilities to function and live well under new conditions. Use the new situation and circumstance to grow in new ways. Again, you are trusting God to lead you as you are shaped and molded by God’s love in relationship to the people entrusted to your care.    

I know this pandemic is not a backpacking trip. Even as much as I wish it was, the reality is we are in this wilderness for an extended period of time. This perspective of adapt, adopt, and adept can assist you spiritually, physically, and mentally during these difficult days. 

Pause to Reflect

Take a moment now to reflect and then act on the following:

  1. Make a list of what you have adapted over the past two months.  Include how you have been living, working, leading, worshipping, etc. Once you have made your list, give God thanks for the ability to adapt during a difficult situation.
  2. Now make a list of the practices, procedures, and principles that you think, and feel are the things you need to adopt or incorporate into your living and leading for an extended period of time. Consider how you are connecting and communicating with family, friends, and the people entrusted to your care. What needs to be adopted for worship, bible study, and pastoral care? Once you have made your list, ask God to give you insight and wisdom to lead in through this crisis.
  3. Now make a list of what skills you need to learn and to sharpen to live and lead through this time of crisis. You know what you know and what you need to learn. Model for the people around you ways in which you are stepping into a new reality. Ask God to give your wisdom and strength for stepping out and learning new ways.
  4. What one behavior will you focus upon changing or sharpening this week? When you have decided, call a trusted friend or colleague to journey with you as you become more adept at leading during this time.  You were created to lead during this time.  You are not here by accident.  Now is the time to step up and be the leader God has created you to be.  What one behavior will you focus upon this week? 

You and I can adapt to just about any situation for a short period of time.  Knowing our current situation, the time has come to meet the challenges of living and leading differently for an extended period of time. Wherever this journey leads, trust God and lean into God’s new future. God has called and equipped you for this time. So, what is your backup plan? 

 

The Covid-19 pandemic has shut down much of what we hold dear and essential. We are no longer gathering in our church buildings to worship. We have put on hold meeting with family and friends, exchanging greetings with handshakes and hugs and sharing coffee and donuts as hospitality. I have not mentioned singing hymns and songs of praise, baptism and holy communion, and other activities that assist us in feeling connected to Christ and one another.

Our everyday and ordinary lives have been disrupted.

I don’t need to remind you that you have moved out of your office to work at home, are giving up prom and graduation, spring sports, shopping, and eating out at our favorite restaurants. Much of our everyday living, which we have taken for granted, has shut down until further notice.

A New Normal

Many of you have done wonderfully well in adapting to these abrupt changes. You have discovered new ways of communicating and connecting. You have been faithful to perfect the use of technology and to step into what is being called “a new normal.”

Over the past two months, there has been very little talk about any subject other than the Covid-19 pandemic and the effects on our lives and on the economy. No other time in my life has there been daily press conferences announcing new deaths, new cases, or new discoveries. Each day bringing another discussion regarding what has been shut down and what we have given up.

As I have reflected upon our current reality as a church, I have discovered there are at least three things the Covid-19 pandemic has not shut down:

Pandemics Don’t Shut Down Love

When everything seems to be taken away, there is one thing that cannot be taken away: love. Whether it is family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, strangers, or enemies, the pandemic cannot shut down our love for one another.

You and I are created to love. As I have written before, it will be in our relationships that we will find hope and healing.

I am convinced that our human connections, God’s love in and through each of us as the church, can and will drive real change, even in the midst of a pandemic. When we see, experience, and love one another truly as human beings, we can no longer see each other as anything else.

To love God and to love neighbor is our mission. When what we hold dear and essential has been shut down and put on hold, love will find a way.

Please don’t lose sight of that fact, because it is God’s love in and through each of us as the church that will help us face the other two things that have not been shut down by this pandemic.

Pandemics Don’t Shut Down Poverty

There are more children living in poverty today, one in every five children, than any other time in the history of our nation. Even in Ohio, there are approximately 513,000 or one in five children living in poverty. The poverty rate in Columbus is 20.8%, which means that one out of every 4.8 residents of Columbus lives in poverty.

The effects of poverty contribute to social, emotional, and behavioral problems. It contributes to poor health both physically and mentally. The risks are greater for children who experience deep and persistent poverty when they are young.

Although the pandemic did not cause this poverty, it didn’t shut it down either. Covid-19 has brought this fact to our immediate attention.

Your church, the churches of the Capitol Area South District, and the churches of the West Ohio Conference have an opportunity to love God and to love neighbor has never before. The God who loves each of us has brought our mission clearly before us. The pandemic cannot shut down our love for one another. In the midst of poverty, in and through the church, love can find a way.

Pandemics Don’t Shut Down Racism

On a warm Sunday afternoon in February 25-year old Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed while jogging through his Brunswick neighborhood. He was an athlete. He had a job. He worked out and jogged regularly.

Ahmaud’s death is similar to the shooting death of 17-year old Trayvon Martin. Although Trayvon was not jogging, he was shot and killed while walking home from the store where he had purchased candy.

What do the two have in common? According to the men who shoot Ahmaud and to the man who shot Trayvon, “they looked suspicious.” I’m sure there is much more to both stories and maybe I should be more aware before moving forward with what I’m going to say, but I know this for sure, the Covid-19 pandemic has not shut down racism.

I have not personally experienced racism like our African American neighbors experience on a daily basis. Until recent years, I seldom thought of being white. But I have learned that my black brothers and sisters think of it and are reminded of it every day.

The murder of Ahmaud Arbery is another example of the distance we still must travel for this land to be a land of “justice for all.”

Similarities between Covid-19 and Racism

Tim Taylor, in his new documentary “Reach, The Documentary” has highlighted the parallels between Covid-19 and racism. Here a few:

  • Covid-19 is invisible to the eye but known by its effects. Racism is invisible to the eye, but easily seen by its effects.
  • Covid-19 can thrive with no outward symptoms. Racial prejudice can endure with no outward indicators.
  • Covid-19 can be carried and spread by unsuspecting carriers. Racism can be carried and spread by people unaware of their subconscious attitudes and beliefs.
  • Covid-19 has been spread by intentional disregard (witness the spring break revelers, and the churches that insist on gathering on Sundays). Racism has been spread by institutional disregard.
  • Covid-19 hits hardest those with limited means. Racism always has.
  • Covid-19 spreads without regard for state lines or boundaries. Racism endures without regard for state edicts or legislation.

Differences between Covid-19 and Racism

Even considering these similarities, there is one major difference between Covid-19 and racism: The virus will pass, but the cancer of racism within our culture and the church, if left unaddressed, will remain.

Tim Taylor writes, “When it comes to racism, however, we don’t seek to “flatten the curve.” We seek to raise up what author Jamar Tisby calls the “ARC” of racial reconciliation: Awareness. Relationship. Commitment.”

Over the past several months much has changed. We have made significant sacrifices in our churches and in our communities. This Covid-19 pandemic has put a temporary stop to much we have held important, but it is undeniable that the greatest challenge facing our nation, our communities, and our churches has not been shut down or gone away. We must acknowledge it directly. We must isolate and attack it. We must pursue a cure, always aware that, even if we defeat this foe in one place, it will seek to regenerate and strike in another.

Your church, the churches of the Capitol Area South District, and the churches of the West Ohio Conference have an opportunity to love God and to love neighbor has never before. The God who loves each of us has brought our mission clearly before us. In the midst of racism, in and through the church, love can find a way.

You and I have given up a lot in regard to Covid-19. What if we embraced this pandemic as a gift that has revealed the truth of what surrounds us? That is what we must do if we are to take advantage of the unexpected opportunity before us. That is what we must do if we are ever going to bridge the growing divide of poverty and the deepening gulf of racism that the church for too long has accepted, allowed, and perpetuated.

Your Next Step

Please know that I am not trying to put more on you as a pastor or congregational leader, but I am writing to remind you that no pandemic has the power to take away the love that can and will address the sins of poverty and racism.

Take advantage of this time to get acquainted with your community. Make contact with community leaders. Get to know school teachers and administrators. Develop relationships with police officers and firefighters. Introduce yourselves to your neighbors. Get to know your neighborhood and community.

Ask yourselves the question, “What do we need to do that no one else is doing?” If you decide to provide meals, develop relationships with the people you serve. Come alongside them. Become vulnerable and risk loving others as God in Christ has loved you.

Pray this prayer, “God, send us the people no one else wants and help us love and accept the people you send to us.” Accept each person as a gift from God who will enrich your life and will help you become more who God has created you to be.

This pandemic has not shut down everything. Take advantage of loving God and loving neighbor, so when this pandemic is over, you know that God’s love has made the difference in changing your world.

On Friday, May 1 Tim and Sara hosted a Facebook Live question and answer period to respond to questions submitted. You can find the list of questions and approximate time stamps below.

You can also find the original Facebook post here.

Approximate Time Stamps, Notes, and Questions Covered 

[00:00:00] Welcome and greeting one another
[00:02:45] Defining the purpose/boundaries of this video
[00:04:39] How do we best love one another in a way that shows a witness to the rest of the world?
[00:06:17] You are loved.
[00:07:07] Timeframe of Phase 1-3: The Virus Doesn’t Know a Calendar
[00:11:30] What will stage one, stage two, stage three, what is going to look like, and what is expected of us come May 24
[00:14:23] How long will Phase 1 -3 last? What does the calendar look like?
[00:18:19] Story of one Freshman in High School – Expectation Setting
[00:19:42] What about VBS, summer activities, and outside groups using the church building?
[00:21:05] Are there recommendations somewhere for proper cleaning?
Here are two documents from the CDC:
[00:22:50] Explain what 10 people in the building means? Per space or total?
[00:24:17] Are the phases set by each individual church or do we follow the guidelines given by government officials?
[00:25:24] What is, what’s the age for, what is the age at which we’re talking about folks being at risk? What about at-risk groups?
[00:29:50] What is the significance of May 24?
[00:33:19] Why can we not use bulletins? What’s the thinking on that? And if we just put the bulletins out for people to pick up on their own, could we do it that way?
[00:36:26] Are there additional guidelines that can be offered? Can we continue to celebrate communion if you already have the authority to do so?
NOTE: As we concluded the live stream it occurred to us that during phases 1 and 2, face masks will be worn. It is impossible to partake of the elements with a facemask on. When you take a face mask off, you should wash your hands. As you can see, the logistics of celebrating Holy Communion in person are challenging, if not impossible.
[00:44:16] What about hallways and aisles?
[00:45:45] What about the length of service?
[00:48:30] Why no responsive readings?
[00:50:35] Why wear masks?
[00:52:30] Wrap-up and reminders
[00:54:24] Closing Prayer

How are you doing this week? I know it was another challenging week. You got word that your congregation could gather for worship on May 24, and then you received guidelines for worship that seemed to make it impossible to gather.

As you look for direction in the midst of conflicting voices, you continue to face a time of uncertainty. It is a time of disappointment, lack of security, and fear of the unknown.

How Are You Responding?

You can respond in one of several ways.

You can spend time focused on what has gone wrong.

It is easy to get lost in grieving the things that have been put on hold. You miss gathering with family and friends, singing hymns and songs of praise, celebrating holy communion, exchanging greetings with handshakes and hugs, serving coffee as hospitality, and gathering as a worshipping community.

Personally, I have come through several times of uncertainty. Times of not knowing what the future might hold and being paralyzed regarding what decisions to make. Being uncertain about the future, I felt confused, disappointed, and alone. I confess, I spent a lot of time thinking about could have, would have, and should have been.

You can spend time focused on what is going right.

I’m not denying the situation you and I find ourselves, but there is another way to respond. Instead of grieving the loss of activities, celebrate the relationships each activity provided.

In the midst of my anxiety, a colleague and friend stepped in to help me face my uncertainty. I didn’t get a lot of sympathy, shallow agreements, or unrealistic platitudes. Who I got was a person of faith who did two things: allowed me to be me and helped me discover a new perspective.

Love Remains

What I learned then and what to reaffirm now is, when everything seems to be taken away, there is one thing that cannot be taken away: love.

So, first, let me remind you to recognize, understand, and name your feelings. It is okay to grieve. Your feelings are your feelings. For you to become who God created you to be, you will need to be vulnerable and courageous. You will need to be kind to yourself and generous with the people around you. As I have written in the past, the payoff is worth it: better health, better decision making, better relationships, and a better you.

Then, second, love your neighbor. It is okay to need people.  You are created to love others. It will be in your relationships that you will find hope and healing, as well as a way to face the uncertainty of this pandemic.  It will be in and through your relationships that you will discover the power to face your grief and develop a new perspective for stepping into the future.

Together

Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, the 19th Surgeon General of the United States, in his book Together writes about healthy relationships being as essential as vaccines and ventilators for our global recovery. He says we have the opportunity to fortify and strengthen our connections and communities during this crisis.

He writes,

“There is a need for medications such as antibiotics, for blood pressure, and antidepressants.  Medicines can help, but there is nothing more powerful than love in its ability to heal.”

He goes on to say that the clearest way we feel and experience love, is through relationships; authentic, open relationships.” Building community, developing relationships, is essential for healing. We are born to be relational. Our connection to one another is necessary.

Who would guess, something so simple, something we take for granted, has the power to heal in such extraordinary ways? So, how do we move the world toward love?

Tip the World Toward Love

This pandemic is giving you the opportunity to do just that, one person at a time. It begins with the decisions you make every day. So here is one place to begin:

  1. Wear your mask in public.

Wearing your mask is not so much for you as it is for others.  By wearing your mask, you are saying, “I care about you.  I take you seriously.”

2. Observe physical distance.

We are calling it social distance, but you want to maintain your social connections.  By observing the physical distance of 6 ft or more, you are saying, “I am thinking of you and I want you to be healthy.”

Those are just two ways you can begin to tip the world toward love.  It seems simple, but it is the sacrifice that will be noticed.

Intentionally Develop Relationships

If you are wearing your mask and observe the appropriate distance, then practice developing relationships outside the activities that are on hold.  Start with someone you know.  Here is what you can do:

  1. Identify a friend or colleague to be your conversation partner.
  2. Call, text, email, zoom, your partner. Make arrangements for a 15-minute conversation.
  3. Before the conversation, give yourself permission to be vulnerable and to be your true self.
  4. Then, explain to your partner you are seeking to tip the world toward love. Give your partner permission to love you by allowing you to be yourself and by helping you discover a new perspective.

This will seem silly and unnecessary at first.  Then as you seek to develop relationships with others, this exercise will become more difficult. It will require the courage to be vulnerable.  But you will begin to take a chance on others as you begin to believe more in yourself. As you build relationships in your life, you will make it possible to build a more relational world.

So, let’s try it.  Love your neighbor. Whether you are a pastor, teacher, congregational or community leader, you can tip the world toward love.

The clearest way to feel and experience love is in and through relationships.  This is our hope. To love your neighbor as yourself.

Let’s take advantage of this pandemic and tip the world toward love.

 

 

Want to practice self-compassion and kindness towards others in this time?

There are at least three things you’re going to need. Below, I outline what you’ll need and what can get in the way. At the bottom of the page, you’ll find a YouTube link to watch a conversation Tim and I have with some of our pastors.

First, consider Psalm 103:1-18. As you read that psalm, notice the qualities of God. Then consider this question: do you treat yourself the way God treats you? For most of us, the answer is no.

In this season, self-compassion and kindness are needed. Yes, they’re always needed. But, as we’re trying to quickly adapt to the changes around us and navigating a new landscape, it’s much easier to be hard on yourself. Here’s what you’ll need to practice self-compassion and kindness towards others.

What You Need

  1. Self-kindness

    • This is about being accepting and understanding of yourself when you suffer, fail or feel inadequate. We have all, at one point or another, felt inadequate in the past month as we’ve navigated this pandemic. Here’s your reminder to talk to yourself and others the way God talks to you. Here are a few reminders about the nature of God:
      • God’s not easily angered
      • God’s rich in love
      • God doesn’t endlessly nag, scold or hold grudges
      • He knows us inside, out and remembers we’re made of mud.
  2. Remember our Common Humanity

    • Suffering and feelings of personal inadequacy are a part of the shared human experience. It’s something we all go through rather than something that happens to you, all alone. 
    • How many of you have thought, “I’m no good at this? I’m the only one who can’t do this? How many of you are frustrated because caring for people can’t happen in the same ways? Yeah…it is called being human. You’re not alone!
  3. Paying attention

    • Self-compassion requires paying attention to your emotions and interactions. Specifically, it necessitates balancing your approach to negative emotions. Don’t suppress or exaggerate your feelings. You can’t ignore your pain and feel compassion at the same time. (You might want to read that last sentence again.)


Now, consider this: which one of the above items do you do well? Which one do you need to improve? If you’re brave, share your two numbers in the comments below. You’ll hear others have already done so on the video we share below. 

What Gets in the Way?

Here’s what gets in the way of kindness and self-compassion. These might be thought of as the opposite end of the spectrum from the items listed above.

  1. Self-judgment

    • This is about beating yourself up and self-criticism. It is where you say to yourself, “I’m dumb for not being able to figure this out. Instead of, “I need to take some time to learn this. It’s all new information.” Or, saying to yourself, “I’m a bad pastor…” No, you’re a pastor who is experiencing something none of us were trained to navigate. As I’ve said many times to many people in the last month, whatever you are doing and however you are doing it, God honors your faithfulness.
  2. Isolation

    • This is where you say, “It’s just me. I’m the only one who experiences this.”
      • Nope. You’re not alone. Got it? Feeling isolated is different than isolating yourself. It’s also very different than our physical distancing right now. This is where you don’t reach out and say to a colleague, “I need to talk with you about something.” Instead, you isolate yourself and don’t ask for help, seek counsel, or guidance to get unstuck.
  3. Over-identification

    • This is simply over-identifying with your feelings. It can be in the form of suppressing, ignoring or exaggerating your feelings. You’re fixated on one emotion and because you’re fixated you’re unable to see the totality of what is happening. 

Which one of these barriers to self-compassion and kindness would you like to kick to the curb because it gets in your way at times?

If you’re brave, share your two numbers in the comments below. You’ll hear others have already done so on the video we share below. 

One Final Reminder

Return to the first three items. Notice I mentioned common humanity. We all do all of these things some of the time. When you want to practice self-compassion and kindness, it’s helpful to be aware of when it’s happening so you can hit the pause button if it’s not helpful.

Finally, remember this: compassion spreads quickly. When you’re kind to ourselves, you create a reservoir of compassion that extends to others and to the people you live with and lead. Those same individuals learn to be self-compassionate by watching you.  That builds trust.

And right now, we’re in a HUGE season of building TRUST. Next week, we’ll have more to say about trust. For now, let us know what comes easy to you and what’s a challenge in the comments below. 

Enjoy our conversation with pastors about this topic, too.

I’m back to my old question, “How are you doing today?” You just celebrated your first Easter at home. No in-person crowds, or music, or Easter rush. It doesn’t mean that you didn’t have more people watching online, or rousing Easter music, or any less work and excitement, but did you ever think that you would spend an Easter Sunday at home?

What about the post-Easter letdown? Have you given thought to what next Sunday will be? Usually, you plan special events for the Sunday after in order not to be hurt and embarrassed by the noticeable collapse in attendance. But, because of the pandemic, this Easter is different. 

Discover a New Normal

Things are different. Did you take this week off? Where did you go? How are you relaxing? I know your answer. So, how are you doing?

As great and as wonderful the music, the worship, and the people, Easter Sunday is a lot of work. I’m confessing here. I spent hours planning the worship experiences for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. I wanted people to experience the story of Jesus’ passion. But, after the excitement of Easter Sunday, the pressure of preaching a message of hope, and the activities for people of all ages, there was a part of me that whispered, “Easter is over. Now we can go back to normal.”

But, in the middle of my ministry, I discovered a new normal. A shift took place. I began to look at every Sunday as Easter Sunday. Instead of Easter becoming a disruption of what was normal, Easter became the new normal. 

The Resurrection in John

Of all the Gospels, John seems to be most aware of the problems created by Easter. Easter is the resurrection of Jesus. No one denies that. But John understood that Easter is also the departure of Jesus. The Gospel of John consists of twenty-one chapters. The public ministry of Jesus ends in Chapter 12. The remaining 9 chapters are a farewell. There is a farewell meal, farewell discourses, a farewell prayer, and then the farewell. John, more than any other writer, sets the tone for the new normal. “Let not your hearts be troubled. You believe in God. Believe also in me. In my father’s house are many rooms” (John 14:1–2). 

There is a deep and profound change. The disciples are like children sitting on the floor playing with their toys when suddenly they look up to discover that Mom and Dad are getting to leave. They ask three questions: “Where are you going? Can we go? Well, who will stay with us?” 

Jesus answers, “Where am I going? I’m going to my Father and your Father.”

They ask, “Can we go?”

Jesus: “Where I am going you cannot go now. You can go later.” 

Disciples: “Then who will stay with us?”

Jesus: “I will ask the Father and he will send the Spirit, who will be with you always.”

John understands Easter to be a new normal, but the disciples are ready to go back to what they perceive as normal. Simon Peter and six others go fishing. Easter was over. It was good while it lasted. It was wonderful to be sure, but you can’t squeeze a lifetime out of one moment. Peter says, “I’m going fishing.” In other words, “I’m glad things are back to normal.” But while he and his companions are fishing, Jesus appears. After they have breakfast together, Jesus looks at Simon and says, “Simon, do you love me?” “Feed my sheep.”

What has changed your life more?

So, I’ve been thinking. What has changed your life more, the pandemic or the resurrection?

Maybe a better question is, how as the pandemic made you more aware of the resurrection? As Easter people (as Jesus followers) there are some things you might do so show the reality of the resurrection: 

  1. Keep in mind and heart that relationships are as important as ever. How you relate to people during this time is as important as what you do. Care and compassion reveal more of Jesus than anything you might know or do.
  2. Be generous in your assumptions.
  3. Deliver groceries to the people who are in isolation.
  4. Share the hard to find commodities with those who are experiencing financial difficulties or with those who can’t get out to buy them.
  5. Cook a meal and offer it to your neighbors. You might do this as an individual or as a church.
  6. Offer entertainment and relationship to those filled with dread.
  7. Help people find the resources they might need. In times of crisis, it is difficult for some people to keep up with the facts, relevant news, and the resources provided. Be loving and kind in sharing what you know.
  8. Learn to make masks and offer them to your neighbors.
  9. Keep in mind that there are systemic problems, not problem people.
  10. You have other ideas. Remember, all you do is with love and grace.

May the Resurrection be Your Normal

Maybe this pandemic has awakened the true normal and is offering you another opportunity to be the evidence of the resurrection. The pandemic surely changes your living, but it will not have the changing impact as the resurrection.

Maybe you can think of it this way: Suppose you have a ten-thousand-dollar bill. After several days of admiring it, being in awe of it, showing it to your friends, what do you do with it? You don’t hand it over to pay for your cup of coffee. You don’t use it to pay for hotdogs and hamburgers. That ten-thousand-dollar bill will have meaning only after you have changed it into a sack full of concrete acts of grace. 

Now, what will last longer, the pandemic or the resurrection? After breakfast, Jesus looks at Simon and says, “Simon, do you love me?” “Tend my lambs and feed my sheep.” When you answer that question, you are telling me how you are doing. 

May the resurrection be your normal.

Holy Week

It’s Holy Week…like no other Holy Week, right?

As you think about how you experienced Palm Sunday and are journeying through Holy Week, consider how these questions help you navigate this season of ministry:

Good Friday

How are you seeing grief expressed right now?

Holy Saturday

What’s the confabulation you’re creating?

Easter Sunday

What’s the hope you’re counting on?

Listen to Sunday is Comin’!

Watch Sunday is Comin’!

You’re invited to hit play and listen to this post, instead of read it. If you choose to read it, read it as you’re listening

Good Friday

Today is Good Friday. It’s a day we pause and remember the crucifixion. 

As we are journeying through Holy Week, I was asked to respond to two questions:

1) What is one message of care or comfort you’d like to provide?

2) what’s one thing you’ve learned already in the midst of the pandemic?

A Message of Care

Here’s the message of care I’d like to share with you this Good Friday

As I consider sitting at the foot of the cross, standing in the crowd watching what was unfolding, or simply hearing the news of Jesus’ death, just as the first disciples did, I pause at these words from Matthew’s gospel.

From noon until three in the afternoon the whole earth was dark. At about three Jesus cried out with a loud shout, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani,” which means, “My God, my God, why have you left me?” Matthew 27:45-46

Even Jesus was expressing grief.

And that’s what I’d like you to consider today. The grief you’re experiencing. Yes, the grief we encounter in the cross. But this year, likely more than any other year, consider the grief you’re experiencing because of the pandemic. And before you say, “I’m not grieving..” I invite you to go with me as I journey through what grief sounds like for me right now.  It’s likely different for you, but I pray, as you sit at the cross with Jesus today, you’ll experience both the reality of the cross and the outstretched arms of a Savior’s love.

You, Grief, and Good Friday

This was the quote that got me thinking about you, grief, and Good Friday.

“We are all dealing with the collective loss of the world we knew. The world we knew is now gone forever.” – David Kessler

Wait, is he speaking of Good Friday or the pandemic?

The message seems to hold true to the message of the cross as well as the message of the pandemic. 

He was speaking of the pandemic.

But when I heard those words and like anyone who has ever experienced loss, I wanted to place my hands on his shoulders, look him in the eyes, and say, “No. no. no. no. no. no. no.” 

But he wasn’t with me. I was hearing those words on a podcast. 

Can I imagine what the disciples must have felt? Yes. I can sit at the cross. Or maybe I would have left the scene. Would I have been busy trying to tie together loose ends or holding a space for others to grieve. 

I wanted to reverse what he said.“No, the world we knew is NOT gone forever.” I still live in the same place. I still have meaningful work. Jesus, tell me, how is this happening?

I still…

And then I realize I’m bargaining. If I can just prove what is still the world I knew before this pandemic, I won’t have to accept that it’s gone.

A little voice in my head says, “Bargain much, Sara B?” Sara B, that’s what my mom calls me. The words are gentle and loving and confrontational all at the same time. 

You see…Bargaining is a classic part of grief.

Dang it.

The World We Knew Is Gone Forever

I hit the “back 15 seconds” button on my podcast player and hear the words again, “The world we knew is now gone forever.”

Who are you, MR. Grief Expert, to tell me “the world we knew is gone forever.” I don’t care that you worked with Elizabeth Kubler Ross on the stages of grief, written books on loss, and making meaning of loss. You’re making me mad. If I’m honest, I’m tossing and turning in bed, angry that you’re keeping me awake. Angry that I’m thinking about this now. I’m trying to go to sleep. Why are you doing this to me?

Go ahead, laugh. Ask the question you’re asking. Ok, I’ll ask it for you, “Who hit the play button on the podcast as you got in bed?” 

Of course, there is only one answer. I did. 

Who has been avoiding listening to this podcast for a week?

Again, I’ll raise my hand and fess up, that was all me.

Who didn’t want to hear the words, “We are all dealing with the collective loss of the world we knew. The world we knew is now gone forever.”? 

Here I am, raising my hand…again… that’s me.

So instead, I’ll toss and turn and try not to feel what I’m feeling. I’ll get all judgemental at the podcast host, Brene Brown, for interrupting her guest. I’ll judge David Kessler for trying to give words to my feeling because then I can offload the hurt I’m feeling. “Judgment demands punishment.” Heck yes, that I can get on board with, and right now, that judgment is directed at the podcast, at your words, at the actions you’re taking.

And right about here, if I could, I’d insert the sound of screeching brakes.

That’s What Grief Does

If all of that sounds horribly unkind, yeah, I know. It does to me too. But that’s what grief does. I bargain. I get angry, feel depressed, and have fleeting moments of acceptance. But mostly, right now, I want to deny this is happening. 

It’s easier to hold it at an arm’s length distance. Just look at the Good Friday passages of scripture. You’ll see it there too.

And that voice I want to silence with the largest muzzle I can find says to me, “Sure you do. But it’s not easier…. Because if you don’t name it as grief, you can’t feel it.”

“Exactly.” I want to respond sarcastically. 

I don’t want to feel it, I say in my best teenage judgmental voice.

Here’s the thing. 

Comparative Suffering

I’m in a relatively good place. I still have work, a home, I have food (albeit my cooking!). What I’m experiencing isn’t like a nurse, a doctor, a parent of the class of 2020. Who am I to feel grief?

“Who are you not to?”

Dang it.

Stop. 

Isn’t it great how our brains have the magnificent ability to recall information? 

I grumble beneath my breath.

Shush. I say to that memory.

“You can’t shush me.” It responds.

You see, I know better. 

Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, it’s the scaffolding of grief. I see it all around me. There’s no shortage of the scaffolding that makes up grief right now. 

I see it in…

  • teachers.
  • the class of 2020.
  • Moms and Dads trying to work from home and teach kids at home.
  • friends’ posts on Facebook and Instagram.
  • Zoom calls and text messages and I hear it in colleagues’ voices.
  •  grandparents standing outside windows.
  • pastors praying on Facebook.
  • Governors, Directors of Health, and Grocery store clerks.
  • Doctors and Nurses.
  • wives and husbands.
  • aunties and uncles and sisters and brothers.
  • my neighbors drawing with chalk on the sidewalk.
  • the husband and wife having groceries delivered by their daughter.
  •  tv, social media, and in my email inbox.

I see it…when I look in the mirror.

And, dear one, so do you.

The world we are accustomed to is gone. Forever.

Collective Grief

We are collectively grieving.

Said simply, “Grief is the death of something.” And, “just like every other loss, we didn’t know what we had until it was gone.” (David Kessler)

So as I coach Christian leaders, pastors and church leaders, it would be easy to say “This is what you do.” You lead others through loss and longings all the time. Yes, I do. So do many of you. But, this collective grief requires that I hold space for a virtual hug while recognizing there is no way I can get through this without you doing the same for me.

So what has changed?

Everything and nothing.

I still teach people how to leverage their strengths. I still am facilitating Brene Brown’s courage building curriculum, Dare to Lead. I’m still podcasting and blogging and attending Zoom meetings and posting a daily devotional to equip people to follow Jesus every day. 

But what has changed is this: I’ve come to recognize that the work I’m doing is now happening in the midst of massive, collective grief. And to deny that reality is to deny the people I lead and serve the space to be human, to be whole, and to become who God created them to be. 

Pause. Sit. Experience Transformation

So, maybe, this Good Friday you’ll pause a little longer. Maybe this Good Friday you’ll sit at the foot of the cross a little longer. 

And maybe, as we move into Saturday and celebrate the resurrection on Sunday, you’ll experience transformation with the disciples.

My to-do lists to meaningful moment lists. What do I mean?

Instead of focusing on getting a task done, I focus on how this task facilitates a meaningful moment for people. I don’t always get it right. Because, like you, I’m experiencing loss. But here are a few of the meaningful moments I’ve tried to introduce to hold space for a virtual hug.

A daily email that arrives at 5:00 am inviting people to read a passage of scripture, reflect on a written story, respond in prayer. At 8 p.m., I post a question on Facebook, inviting people to name and remember how is God is with them. Sometimes the question is for one person. Sometimes for 25. The number doesn’t matter.

There are now weekly Facebook lives that are becoming meaningful moments to share, talk, and celebrate where God is moving. The podcast, emails, and three blogs a week are what we’re doing to hold space for others to make meaningful connections with one another, with God, and with their community. 

Because what I know this Good Friday is this: the only way we’ll truly experience the transformative power of the resurrection, is if we hold space for one another to experience the reality of Good Friday. 

Every blessing to you as we journey through these next three days and live into the promise of Easter. 

 

How are you doing this week?

You have entered your third week of the “stay at home” order.  You just celebrated the most unusual Palm Sunday ever celebrated. You are listening to and watching the conflicting reports regarding the pandemic. Truthfully, you are ready for this pandemic to be over so you can go back to doing what you know you do best. Yet, you are now into Holy Week and you are preparing for Easter Sunday in a way you never expected to be preparing.  

So, I’ll ask my question again, “How are you really doing?”

Chicken Little or Not Doing Enough?

On March 13, Dr. Amy Acton, Director of the Ohio Department of Public Health said, “On the front end of a pandemic, you look a little bit like an alarmist. You look a little bit like a Chicken Little.  The sky is falling. And on the back end of a pandemic, you didn’t do enough.” I share her quote to do nothing more than give a perspective of where you might be as you live into and lead through this pandemic.  

You can find yourself anywhere between disbelief and acceptance. Externally, you are learning new ways and living into this pandemic the best you know how.  It is truly surreal. Who would ever have imagined what is going on in the world today?

Internally, you find it hard to believe that the situation is as desperate as the reports say it is. You are disturbed over the talk of a “new normal,” and you are overwhelmed with the pain, confusion, and the distress of people you know and love.

Life and work have changed. The idea that you have little control over what is going on creates anxiety you have felt very few times in your life.  You can’t do what you know you can do, so you have decided to learn new ways to get through this time of crisis.

Who Do You Need to Be?

The truth is not one of us have been at this place before. I have not faced any situation like this in my 46 years of ministry.  But, with that said, I have given a thought and reflection upon who we need to be and how we can proceed together to enter the day that emerges on the other side of this crisis.

So, here is what I have been thinking:

  1.   Keep focused upon who you are

  • You have what you need to live into and to lead through this crisis.
  • Reflect upon the experiences and/or events that have shaped your thinking and feeling.
  • Affirm what you have learned through your relationships, experiences, and education

I am convinced you are created to navigate the uncertainty and anxiety of the situations and circumstances of these days.

  1.   Keep focused upon why you do what you do.

  • Keep the mission of the church in mind – Whether you articulate the purpose as “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” or in another way, remind yourself of the church’s purpose.
  • Stay grounded upon your call to ministry – Your call is to people
  • Continue your study of and reflection upon the scripture – Something that might be helpful is the God Is with Us daily devotional
  • Continue to keep the people entrusted to your care focused upon God’s love and care for them. How are you engaging them in the study of scripture? Worship? Care?   

When you focus upon why you do what you do, you will be the leader that you need and want. You will model the behavior needed to live in this crisis and provide the leadership to get through the crisis.

  1.   Begin to focus upon your strengths.

  • Do you know your strengths? If not, this would be a great time to learn your gifts.
  • How do your strengths complement the strengths of family members? 
  • How do their strengths complement yours?

Now, more than any other time, you can strengthen family relationships and learn the strengths of others as you lead and care for the people God has entrusted to you.

  1.   Stay present in the moment. You are your best when you are present. 

  • We are presently in a “transitional normal.” Stay present as you step into new and different ways of working and living
  • We are moving toward a “new normal.” No one of us knows exactly what that means, but when you stay focused and present helps you model and lead through all transitions.
  • Remember: If you spend too much time in the past upon what you have lost or what you should have done, you lose yourself in regret.  If you spend too much time longing for the future, wishing for something different, you lose yourself in worry. 

Stay in the moment and take one step at a time.  Offer to walk with others who are lost in regret and worry.  Assist them in staying in the moment and stepping into every day with hope and courage.

  1.   Learn to pace yourself. 

  • We are in the midst of a long transition.
  • Keep yourself healthy – Get enough rest, exercise, eat healthy meals. Your health is essential as you lead others into and through this crisis
  • Stay open to learning new systems and new ways of providing the care and services you have been providing.
  • Continue to improve your use of technology and social media.  Record or live stream worship or bible study. Maybe you can experiment with one or two forms of technology or social media and discuss this blog or earlier blogs.
  • Continue to use technology to reach out and connect with the people you lead and serve.  If nothing more than a phone call, text, or email, you are staying connected. Take a risk and use Zoom or Skype to connect with people you are accustomed to seeing on a regular basis.

You have stepped up and responded in remarkable ways. Because we are in this for the “long haul” it is important that you pace yourself, keep yourself healthy, and lead with hope and courage.

“We Made It, Together!”

My intention is not to add more to your life but to improve your life. I am convinced that if you focus upon who you are why you do what you do, and when you live with your strengths, and stay in the moment, you will get to the end of the pandemic and be able to say, “We made it! And we made it together! 

Know that you are not in this alone.  Sara Thomas and I (Tim Bias) are with you. We are ready and willing to journey with you into and through this crisis.  Keep yourself healthy and now that I will come back with my question, “How are you doing? How are you really doing?”