Graduation in Light of a Pandemic

Written by Rhonda Alstott

There’s been a lump that sits in the back of my throat these days. You know the kind that if you don’t swallow back hard enough the tears will just flow? Yesterday was one of those days I couldn’t keep it down.  It was graduation cap and gown pickup for my son Caleb. My Man-child. My Thing #4.  Caleb, the one child I struggled with years of infertility for and the one who we were blessed with after many years of prayers. The craziest toddler I’ve ever raised. My sweet, sweet boy is now 18, and it’s his time to walk the stage.  He welcomed Tony and I to go alongside him to get his drive thru package of cap and gown, along with his beautiful graduation announcements, complete with May 31st date.   We join the cars lined up outside in the school parking lot, the rain pouring, the wind blowing, and I can’t swallow it down anymore.  The tears flow as NAHS staff hand Caleb his items through the window with masks on.  I sit the yard sign next to me in the back seat and sigh and exclaim “This is so crazy. I still can’t believe this is all happening. I’m sorry Caleb, this isn’t how I ever thought your last month of school would look like.”  He gently pats my leg… “It’s ok mom.”  So true to sweet Caleb’s personality. We arrive home and Tony says, “Don’t put the yard sign out in this storm.  It won’t stand a chance in this wind.  Wait.”
 

“Wow. Ain’t that the truth” is all I can think… what a storm we are living through right now.  It affects our minds, emotions and our physical stamina.  Caleb was born just 3 months after another storm, 9-11.  He was born into a country at war with terrorism. His life has been lived differently than my older three children this side of the towers falling. The current pandemic will serve as the towers falling for a new generation.  The storm we find ourselves in at this point will change our landscape. So many metaphors…what buildings will be left standing? What trees will fall? How long will power be out? Can we face this new reality with a renewed faith and hope in Jesus?  Has our house been built upon the rock or sand? 

 

 My preparation for leading my classes this week via Zoom has led me to two familiar instances when the disciples encountered storms and how Jesus met them in the midst. (Mark 4:35-41, Matthew 14:24-33).

 

 In Mark, their fear was met with Jesus asking them “Why are you so afraid?  Have you still no faith?”.  The antidote to fear is faith in Jesus.  There are times where my fear grows greater than the presence of God in my life, but in the end, I hope, like the disciples, I ask the question “Who then is this man?”, and in answering find my fear no match for Jesus and the presence He brings in my life.  In Matthew, when I feel myself sinking in the storm, as Peter did, when he took his eyes off of Jesus, may I remember that when my faith finds me sinking, I can always cry out “Jesus save me”, and regardless of my momentary faith, Jesus will pull me out of the winds and the waves.  

 

It’s been said we are all in the same storm, but different boats.  That rings true with me.  We are not in control of as much as we thought we were.  We are all having to adapt and change.  We all are having our resources stretched whether it is money, time, energy, or space.  I realize my tears yesterday were tears of grief. Of expectations not met.  My tears were about the future and the plans I had made.  All the unanswered questions…the “what abouts?”

 

In Proverbs 16:9 it says, “We plan the way we want to live, but only God makes us able to live it” – The Message.  As all of us are learning that the way we want to live is totally out of our control, may God give us His grace and peace and the ability to let His presence be larger than our fears in this pandemic storm.
 

 


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Burning Heart

The heart of John Wesley was strangely warmed at Aldersgate. Read 2 Peter 1:4. John Wesley was a pastor without faith.  He had been an expert on religion and ritual.  When he was faced with a near death experience on the open sea he feared for his life.  A group of Moravians sang hymns and prayed.  He was faced with the contrast of the Moravian faith and his own lack of faith.  Moravian pastor, Peter Böhler, was teaching Wesley about Moravian spirituality, which included the belief that Christians have an assurance of faith experienced as love, peace, and joy. Those emotions were in short supply for both John and his brother Charles.  John poured through the Bible for evidence of Böhler’s claims.  John came across 2 Peter 1:4 about God’s promises and other passages about faith.  Charles was first to have an encounter with the Holy Spirit that gave him the faith that John knew he lacked.  John Wesley was really struggling. Three days after Charles’ conversion experience, John records in his journal what happened to him on May 24, 1738:

 

“In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading [Martin] Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

 

John Wesley would later organize what became the “Methodist” movement.  Wesley Chapel is named after John Wesley.  It is not enough to just go through the motions of religion.  We must put our faith in Jesus Christ.  When we do, God gives us a passion, a burning heart, that rejoices with the assurance of being saved from our sins and having hope for eternal life.
 
Dear God, give me a burning heart.  Give me a faith and an assurance that you are the resurrection and the life.  Send your Holy Spirit to fill me and lead me.  Amen.
 
Pastor Tony Alsott

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How Much Do You Trust God?

Honest Posts about Everyday Life Where We Learn to Be More Like Christ ~by Elizabeth Smith

 

How Much Do You Trust God?

That was the question that was asked of our congregation one Sunday morning by my pastor. How much do I trust God? He asked us that over and over with different situations each time…and I started answering those questions in my head. “How much do you trust God with your children?” Oh God, I trust you with my children. I am doing my best to take care of them, but I know you gave them to me and you love them way more than I do. “How much do you trust God with you your circumstances?” Oh yes God, I trust you with my circumstances. I do the best I can with what I know, but I trust you to guide me. “How much do you trust God with your finances?” PAUSE

My finances? Hmmmmmmm. Well, I was tithing (can I call it tithing?) about 3% at the time, so I answered as such. Well, God, I guess I trust you about 3% with my finances. Did that mean that I only trusted God with 3% of everything? I mean, I have been known to have control issues. I like to hold on tightly to things – to make sure I can maneuver them the way I want so I feel secure. But, when you add God in the equation and think about His control over things…then you have to stop and say hmmmmmm. What’s real here? What am I doing?

Whenever I start to wonder what the heck I’m doing or thinking, when I feel the panic sweeping over me, I have to check the Bible to see what what it tells me. I have so many thoughts and feelings and emotions…that I’m not sure I really trust all of them when making decisions.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. Proverbs 3:4 ESV

DO NOT LEAN ON YOUR OWN UNDERSTANDING!

At that moment…I started tithing 10%!

During these uncertain times of COVID-19, can we apply this same verse? I mean, right now there have been 108,503 deaths worldwide – and 20,499 deaths in the United States (those numbers will increase). Can we still trust the Lord with all our heart and not lean on our own understanding? What if I’m stuck in my home for another 3 months? What if I get sick? What if one of my loved ones get sick and dies?

I’m going to tell you (and me) YES!!!!! Those words still hold true. We can still trust God – even if we do not understand!. That’s super scary because bad things can happen. There’s an unknown factor that we are dealing with. But, that’s where the second part of that verse comes in…”lean not on your own understanding!”

Along with all this weird season of COVID-19, we are also in the awesome season of EASTER!

In a nutshell, what is Easter – what happened?

  • God sent His ONE and ONLY Son to earth
  • That ONE and ONLY Son was accused of blasphemy and treason while trying to show people how to live and teach them about His Father and Heaven.
  • God’s ONE and ONLY Son was crucified (wrists and ankles nailed to a cross and HE. WAS. KILLED.).
  • That ONE and ONLY Son was then resurrected (came back to life 3 days later).

WHY? WHY did all this happen? What’s the significance?

In a nutshell?

TO SAVE US!!!

Us = you and me!

He went through that horrible experience so that you and I can live eternally. WOW! Live eternally?

Right now, we are constantly hearing about hundreds of thousands of deaths – every single day! BUT GOD! BUT GOD! BUT GOD!

God promises us a life everlasting. A life with Him. A life with no pain and sadness.

In this season of Easter (and COVID-19), why not keep your eyes and hearts and minds focused on this God and His ONE and ONLY Son who can give us the life everlasting? A life without pain and suffering?

This is not our home.

Please put your trust in God! Please put your faith in Him! Please do not rely on your understanding. Trust God! “Perfect love cannot be overcome and death has no sting” if your trust is in God.

 


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Tetelestai

Tetelestai……I love the way this Greek word rolls off my tongue when I say it. According to Saint John, these were the last words of Jesus on the cross, or as most of us better know it as “It is finished.” This phrase rings truer to me now more than any time in my life as, like everyone else, I’m experiencing my first worldwide pandemic. This phrase has brought me comfort this week as I go to bed and play over the fear driven “what ifs” that spiral in my spirit before I quiet them with my personal prayer of “Jesus give me your peace”. I want this perfect peace of Jesus more now than ever and because of Jesus’ redemptive work on the cross and His declaration of Tetelestai I now can rest in this perfect peace of Jesus.

 

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:4-7

 

I have been reading and meditating on Philippians 4 throughout this past month of fears. During this Holy Week, I am reminded more than ever that Tetelestai has given me the opportunity to rejoice, to be reasonable, to not be anxious, to be thankful… because of Tetelestai I can let my prayers and my asking and even begging (which is what supplication means) be made known to God. And because of Tetelestai I can have that supernatural peace of God. There is no way I understand what is going on, but this peace that God offers me, it guards my heart and my mind in Christ Jesus, so I don’t have to understand. All I have to know is that Jesus finished the redemptive work on the cross. And even more, because He resurrected on that first Easter Sunday, I can face whatever uncertainty this current crisis may bring. Whatever may come my way, Jesus is enough!

 

So, in the meantime, I’m doing what is within my control. I’m washing my hands and staying in. I’m loving my neighbor by social distancing. I’m checking on my neighbors, friends and loved ones. I’m trying to make our home a place of peace in the midst of chaos. I’m giving extra grace in the midst of the heightened tensions. I’m counting each day as a gift and making the most of it. I’m weeping with those that are weeping. I’m rejoicing with those that rejoice. I’m praying without ceasing. I’m writing three things down on paper a day to remind me of how faithful my God is. I’m begging for God’s wisdom and peace. I’m abiding in Jesus and growing the roots of my faith even deeper so I can weather whatever the future holds.

 

Tetelestai my friends. My prayer for you and your families is that you too can live in light of this truth as well as the truth of the resurrection. May you all have an Easter made with loving memories and may you experience God’s supernatural peace.

Easter Blessings-

Rhonda Alstott


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Praetorium

The soldiers lived and worked inside the Praetorium. Guards in the towers watched over Jerusalem.  Placed at the northern edge of the Temple Mount, they had a clear view of the Temple Courtyard and beyond to the Garden of Gethsemane at the base of the Mount of Olives. 

Outside the Praetorium, the city was filled with Jews who had come to celebrate the Passover, a feast commemorating the night God spared the Hebrews from death and set them free from slavery in Egypt. The streets were more crowded than usual as the pilgrims and tourists walked the city.  Many were set up on the sides of the streets to sell their figs, their scarves, and their woven baskets.  Sheep were escorted toward the Temple for the Passover sacrifice. 

Inside the Praetorium, the Roman soldiers were mocking the most recent group of men condemned to die.  One, in particular, was being executed for being the King of the Jews.  They put a crown of thorns on his head.  They put a robe on his back and mocked him.  They punched him in the face, pulled out his beard, and spit on him.  They put a cross on his back and then they began the parade.

Stepping outside the Praetorium into the busy street, Jesus carried the cross to his place of execution.  He was weak from a recent scourging.  He was tired after a long night of prayer and mock trials.  He was thirsty.  The walk was uphill through the crowded streets as soldiers yelled for people to make way.  Jesus fell.  Women wept for him.  Simon of Cyrene was recruited by the soldiers to carry the cross the rest of the way.  Some people in the crowd took pity on the man stumbling behind the cross. Some of the people saw the man with the cross and were bothered by being inconvenienced.  Most people in the city didn’t even know that a man was walking to Golgotha, the place of the execution. 

What will you be doing during Holy Week?  Will you take notice of the man who was nailed to a cross?  Jesus asked his disciples, “Could you not stay awake one hour?”  Are you willing to give some of your time to participate in our special services during Holy Week that help us connect to the story of Jesus? 


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Rejoice

Honest Posts about Everyday Life Where We Learn to Be More Like Christ ~by Elizabeth Smith

Surreal! This situation we are living through right now seems like a movie. It’s really scary for so many reasons. The bible tells us not to fear, but I have moments these days full of anxiety and fear. People are dying, this virus is spreading so quickly, everything is closing and we are faced with…the unknown! We all have so many questions: Will I get sick? Will somebody I love die from this? How long will this last? Will I be able to pay my bills?

My mind keeps going back to the verses my pastor preached several weeks ago:

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV

 

I get the pray continually part. I’ve been doing that lately! I even get the give thanks in all circumstances part. There is a lot of good going on in the world right now. I love seeing communities come together. I love seeing people making the most of a bad situation. I am healthy. My friends and family are healthy. I have a home and food. I have a lot to be thankful for. But, rejoice? I had to take a closer look at that word because to me that sounds a lot like celebrate and I don’t really feel like celebrating right now. So, I looked at a different translation…

Be full of joy all the time. Never stop praying. In everything give thanks. This is what God wants you to do because of Christ Jesus. 

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NLV

The New Life Version says to be full of joy all the time. Having joy is very different from celebrating. Joy does not always equal happiness. Joy is one of the Fruits of the Spirit and it is the assurance that God will never leave us. It is the peace that God is in control. It is the understanding that He loves us. It is the hope of knowing that He can restore what has been lost. It is trusting that He can take difficult situations and bring good from them.

This is where we need to turn our thoughts right now. We need to rejoice always because we know we can trust this God who is bigger than this virus that seems enormous.

When I messaged my pastor to make sure I had the correct chapter and verses, he said “but don’t forget 19-20!” If we look past the familiar verses, we read (in yet a third translation):

16 Always be joyful. 17 Always keep on praying. 18 No matter what happens, always be thankful, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.

19 Do not smother the Holy Spirit. 20 Do not scoff at those who prophesy.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-20 TLB

Verse 19 tells us not to smother the Holy Spirit. When we smother (or stifle) the Holy Spirit, we stop the Spirit’s work in us. We don’t allow for the joy and peace that we so desperately need…especially right now. When we try to rely completely on resources other than the Spirit, we are smothering the Spirit. When we look for comfort in other ways and in other individuals, we are stifling the Holy Spirit. In this time of uncertainty, draw your peace from the Holy Spirit. Find comfort from the One who can provide it most.

In verse 20, we are told not to scoff at those who prophesy. We need to hear and listen to our religious leaders because they are going to keep us focused on the truth of WHO is in control. They are going to help us keep our eyes fixed on the One who can give us peace and hope and comfort. We must hold onto what is good and be wise to avoid evil. As we continue to focus on the news of the never ending doom of this unknown new challenge, we really need to balance this with the reminder of the hope of Jesus Christ and the promise of God.

I’m not saying this is always easy. I’m not saying I do this well. Fear creeps in. Worry keeps me up at night. Questions fill my head. I need these reminders too. I need the peace of God at times more than others. We are in this together. Don’t forget 19 -20!

If you are a believer, you will know that we were never promised a life without trouble, but we have been promised that He will carry our worries, He will be our peace, He will never leave us, and that if we believe in Him, we will have eternal life. We need to rejoice. We need to pray. We need to give thanks. Why? Because this is what God wants for us because of Jesus Christ! If you are not a believer, I pray that you can ask Jesus to be the Lord of your life and you can start to experience the joy and the peace that only He can give in these uncertain times.


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