Dear Christian family and friends,
You likely noticed that I did not send out my usual Good Morning paragraph. It is time, I believe, to put those messages on hold for a while. In seeking to write these last few days, especially this morning, I struggled far more that usual with the right way to convey what I wanted. Whenever I encountered that in the past it turned out as an indication I was going in the wrong direction. I feel that is what our Lord is telling me now. I have so much I want to say, but we are a different time than any of us has faced before. I think our Blessed Lord is saying (to me at least) be quiet, and listen. You may remember a few days ago I used the verse from Isaiah 30:15, God calling us to quietness and trust. Facing our present time, I think this is where we all need to be. Our Lord Jesus, loves, cares deeply for, and still guides His people.
My wife and I are fine. We are well, except for trying to get a few aging things repaired. You are always in our prayers. Continue to pray for us. If you care to write or call please do. We’re not going anywhere. Our address and e-mail remain the same. And as the “stay at home” order begins to be lifted, we will see, and hug, many of you again.
For the time being Good Morning messages will remain quiet. But never forget, or fail to trust the truth I’ve been seeking to convey for years – Jesus loves you very much. He gave His life to redeem you, and He can be trusted to walk with you no matter where you must go.
In the love of Jesus our Lord,
Irvin F. Stapf, Jr.
Pastor Emeritus, Christ Lutheran Church
One of the 12 our Lord chose to be an Apostle was named Barnabas. The name Barnabas means Son of consolation or son of exhortation, son of comfort. That is just the way this man lived and worked among the Apostles and the early Christians. First century Christians were facing difficult times with many challenges, fears, and sacrifices confronting them all. Sons of encouragement, consolation, exhortation, and comfort were very much in need. Barnabas worked where he was able to fill that need. We all face a difficult time in our world confronted by sacrifice, fear, and death. We all need to hear from Barnabas. Many of our hymn writers knew this for whatever times they faced. They sought to give encouragement and comfort which is now their enduring gift to strengthen God’s people. One hymn written by Frederick M. Lehman marveled and rejoiced in the depth of God’s love for His people. It was written in 1917 by Lehman when he was serving as a pastor in Kingsley, Iowa. He had no real concept at the time of the toll both the war and the approaching flu epidemic would take, but Pastor Kingsley knew that whatever his people faced in whatever time, they needed to know the strong love that their God had for them. Their Heavenly Father who had given the life of His only begotten Son to redeem them, would certainly see them through the times they (and we) face now.
The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star,
And reaches to the lowest hell;
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled,
And pardoned from his sin.
Oh, love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure
The saints’ and angels’ song.
I’ve probably shared this story with you before, but I think it can be helpful in these difficult days. When I was a kid our Sunday evenings were often spent at my grandparent’s home in West Baltimore. After supper was finished, and dishes washed, the family usually gathered back around the dining table playing a game of Canasta. Many younger folks, never heard of it. but it was a card game that made for a fun evening. My grandfather was a competitive person and would play to win. Using all the proper rules of the game he didn’t mind shutting someone else out. My grandmother would look over at him and complain, “Oh George, your not playing Christian!” Her idea was to help the other person win. Some years later, after my granddad died, she would occasionally visit us. She was introduced to football broadcasts on our 18 inch, black and white, RCA console TV. She would watch with the family and cheer for whoever had the ball. Like the card games the family played in her dining room she was happy to see others win, and if possible to help them. There is noting wrong with playing a card game fairly to win, or wanting to see your favorite team score, but her idea of being a Christian really is not a bad lesson for life, especially in times of trial. We should be dong all we can to help the other guy win, and many really are. We are all facing these present times of pain, fear, and personal sacrifice. We’ve seen some act out of selfishness, hoarding, and demanding their due. But it has been wonderful to see many people willing to give of themselves in personal sacrifice, and others being creative with their talents to bring some joy and beauty to those around them. What can we do to help others win?
My wife and I had a visit to a doctor’s office a while back. We sat for a time in the waiting room. The TV was on to one of the daytime programs. No one in the room was paying the least attention to the TV. The same had been true wherever we go. Restaurants have music, usually bad, or TVs around the walls. Ear buds are in many ears. Are we really so afraid of silence? There is something spiritually significant here, and especially for the times in which we currently find ourselves. Quietness reaches to our inner being allowing God’s Spirit to speak to our hearts. Noise blocks Him out. God said through the Prophet Isaiah, “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength…”(30:15) Repentance, that is, turning to face our Lord, coming humbly to rest before Him. In quietness and trust we draw upon His strength. Unfortunately, God immediately followed this statement to Isaiah’s people saying, “but you would have none of it.” Tragic, and it led to their downfall. Quietness, calmness of heart and mind, is a beautiful thing. It is not to be feared, but embraced. It is not easy, but we recognize that we don’t have all the answers for this or any other challenge of life. We also know everything doesn’t always turn out just the way we would like. It didn’t for our Lord Jesus’ in His earnest prayers in Gethsemane the night before His crucifixion. Yet in yielding in trust to His Father, and ours, He won the greatest victory for all mankind. We will never have to make a sacrifice as great as His, but “in quietness and trust” we have the strength we need for whatever we must face. Make time for quietness before our Lord each day.
On the windowsill in my office I have a number of thing I’ve saved from many years past. Things like a wristwatch with no straps and with the crystal falling out. Not very nice looking and of no monetary value, but it was the watch my parents gave me when I was confirmed at 13. There is a glass paper weight that sat on my father’s desk for many years, and a plastic figure of four elephants walking in line that was on my grandparents coffee table. I played with it often on visits, and am likely responsible for the fact that one elephant has no trunk. These things have no value except to me personally. They hold a lot of childhood memories. They also now hold a fascination for our own 4 and 5 year old grandkids. They have been the source of many stories. Like many people who enjoy family treasures, they give a sense of connectedness to people, events, and times of happiness that are important. Most of us are thinking about that connectedness because of the restrictions we face because of the virus outbreak. One of our dear friends at church said she just wants a hug. We were created for relationships, for personal connectedness with one another and with our Lord. But regardless of our personal history, or the conditions imposed by our world, we have a deep and real connectedness in the covenant of our baptism. God has accepted us in Jesus Christ. We are a part of all the saints who have gone before us. The events of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection are events that mean everything for our lives. We are the people of God, saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Our present restrictions will pass. We will be able to give hugs again. But being a part of the Body of Christ through faith in His Name will never pass away. We are one with all who are in Christ, past, present, and future. You can’t be any more connected than that.
I’m sorry for the length of yesterday’s message. I thought after I sent it off that I’ve written enough about this pandemic. I’ve tried to emphasize that our God is not absent from this life or uncaring. He knows all that we face, and He loves us deeply. He is always working to bring us closer to Himself. I have lots of thoughts about it, hopefully guided by God’s written Word, but I don’t have answers for all the Why questions of today trials. So, for the present, I’ve written enough about this pandemic. Yesterday I ended by highlighting the two great commandments found in Moses’ teaching in Deuteronomy, and given again by our Lord Jesus recorded in the New Testament Gospels. The First, to love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength. If we desire to love our gracious Lord in this way, He will open for us what answers we need about what we presently see, and he will bring us peace to trust Him in all that is beyond our understanding. The Second, to love our neighbor as we love ourself. In the context of the First great commandment the Spirit of God will direct our hearts to the persons and needs where He will show His sacrificial love through our hands and resources. Our Lord Jesus Christ, God in human flesh, has demonstrated that our Triune God is deeply a part of this life, and that He loves each and every person, you and me included, enough to give His very life for our redemption. He can be trusted no matter the circumstances of life or our understanding.
Years ago, one of our members worked for a university laboratory doing research for a government space project. He remarked how incredibly complex the overall system was. There were multiple computer systems monitoring every aspect, each with its own fail safe shutdown mode. Every aspect had to function with precise timing or the entire system would not work. We call this progress and laud the wonders of our technological age, and it is. Yet at the same time we have taken that same progress complicating our lives and put great pressure on our ourselves. Like that space program everything has to fit together and continue to work smoothly. The type of employment that provides the income needed; so we can pay the mortgage on the home we desire; have security with our various insurance programs; the home to accommodate the things we enjoy; which gives personal satisfaction; and so on making up one package called life (or in engineering terms – one system) that functions as we want it to. Have one part fail, or be taken away, and we suffers. Our current situation with the Covid-19 pandemic is requiring sacrifices from us all, as well as causing severe hardship, poverty, illness, even death for many. How do we deal with that? It is difficult for any of us to find a clear cut answer. We know that our God created us and loves us. We were designed so that our basic needs were really pretty minimal. Paul wrote to Timothy saying, “If we have our food and clothing we shall be content.”(I Timothy 6:8) We are also greatly missing the fellowship and personal contact with others. I’m not really advocating anything here, and I’m not ready to give up many of the material things I enjoy. But I think we do need to realize the pressure we put on ourselves by the way of life we’ve constructed. Certainly for some their present situation is not their choice, their desire, or in their control. How do we face all that is confronting us? Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”(John 14:27) How do we live continually in the Peace of our Lord Jesus? I think our present situation is asking us to take a clear look both at our own lives, and at our Gracious Lord God who gives us life. Beyond whatever we face in our world, we are always left with the daily task of seeking to live in the two great commandments – to love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. There is no better answer, and we can do no more.
The 1960s and ’70s were very active years in the beginning of the Charismatic renewal taking place in both Protestant and Roman Catholic churches. There were several ministers who became very prominent at that time – Derek Prince, Charles Simpson, Bob Mumford, and a few others. The emphasis was on the work of God, the Holy Spirit, and particularly on the nine Spirit-given gifts listed in I Corinthians 12:4-11. Cassette recordings of their teachings were distributed by the thousands. I believe our Lord was in the midst of that movement, though many mistakes were also made. Pastor Bob Mumford once made the remark, “If you want to know what’s in a cup, bump it.” In Jesus’ earthly ministry, He was always seeking to get to people’s hearts, changing them with His love. It’s what’s in the depth of each life that guides their actions. The Lord saw the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and challenged it. He saw the openness and lack of any deceit in Nathanael that He would nurture, and cause to grow. We are in the midst of the Covid-19 worldwide pandemic. I have remarked in past Good Morning paragraphs about the different responses we are seeing to the trials placed upon us. Our cup is being bumped! It is not that the Lord wants to see what is in our hearts. He already knows. He wants us to see it more clearly, and willingly receive Philip’s invitation to “Come and see” the Messiah from the humble village of Nazareth. (John 1:45-49) It is He who touches and changes hearts to bring forth a cleansed and new life.
During World War Two one means of communication from ship to ship was by spotlights mounted on deck. A signalman would flash a series of long and short pulses of light in Morse code that could be seen by the signalman on another ship some distance away. The message would be conveyed in those flashes of light. This is not unlike the way God communicates with us. There are instances of people in Scripture or history hearing an audible voice or having a stirring vision. We say we would like to hear God that clearly, but this is rare. We do, however, have flashes of light from the Lord that are just as real and important. Reading the Scripture, a passage you’ve read ten times suddenly becomes clear. An incident occurs – Ah! That’s what that verse in the Psalms was talking about! We are hearing reports from a variety of people around the world how we are being forced, by the current pandemic, to take a look at our life and what is really of value. Others find human contact so necessary, and important. They are finding new ways of sharing with one another. They desire to bring some joy to the community. Others realize the pain and suffering it is causing. They use their skills, or find other way to provide healing, comfort, and relief. The examples are endless. Are these flashes of the Signalman’s light? We’ve continually emphasized the love of our Lord for His creation. We’ve said that He is not absent or uncaring. I don’t claim that every incident in today’s world comes from the Lord, but the Lord does love us with an everlasting love, and He is not silent.
My wife and I had a wonderful day yesterday, Easter Sunday 2020. Of course we are under the stay at home order from the Governor because of the virus pandemic. There are precautions to take and concern for ourselves and loved ones, but none of that changes the love we share in our family and our greater Christian family. I am constantly amazed, and perhaps even more so this Lenten and Easter Season, that our God’s nature pure love, and the truth that we can only love one another because He has first loved us.(1 John 4:19) This Good Friday and Easter especially brings home the truth of God’s deep love and willing sacrifice for good.(Romans 5:8) I’ve often pondered this question I can never answer. Why should our Lord God, the All Powerful, All Knowing, Creator of all that is, be a God of pure and unmixed love? The Greeks and Romans envisioned their gods all powerful, but also self-serving, dominating one another, and demonstrating everything but our Lord’s self-sacrificing love. I have no answer for this question about God’s nature, but I can accept that it is true because Jesus has made it real for all of us. For God loved all mankind so much that He gave the life of His only begotten Son so that we could live.(read John 3:16) My wife and I were able to share, via the blessing of the internet, that love in our church’s morning worship and with family and friends throughout the day. We got to bed late, but I wasn’t done pondering! I kept my wife up another 10 or 15 minutes as I remembered all the path choices we had faced in our 54 years together, and how our Lord guided us through each of them bringing us where we are now. There were a lot of bumps and some heartaches, but He was always there. I can’t explain the why of this virus we all face, or the report this morning of 19 deaths from tornados in four of our southern states. But I know that, because of Jesus Christ, I can trust ourselves to Him no matter what.