This coming Thursday will be the 69th annual observance of America’s National Day of Prayer. What many do not realize is that the observance of this day is a national law, not just a day proclaimed by some special interest group. In 1952, President Truman made the National Day of Prayer an annual observance. His action was amended by congress. On May 5, 1988, President Reagan made the National Day of Prayer the first Thursday in May. The theme verse for this year is Habakkuk 2:14, “For the earth will be filled, with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” As a member of America’s National Prayer Committee, I invite you to join me in praying for our country on Thursday, May 7. Let us especially pray for an end to and a cure for COVID-19. On July 3, 1849, during a cholera epidemic, President Zachary Taylor proclaimed: “The providence of God has manifested itself in the visitation of a fearful pestilence which is spreading itself throughout the land, it is fitting that a people whose reliance has ever been in His protection should humble themselves before His throne…acknowledging past transgressions, ask a continuance of the Divine mercy.” For more information and assistance, you can go to nationaldayofprayer.org.
My government stimulus check arrived last week. I have two things to say about it. Number one, I am very glad that those in need are able to receive such assistance. Number two, a benefit of being retired is my income has remained the same. I have not been fired, laid-off, or placed on a leave of absence. Therefore, I do not have a pressing need for the extra money. At least I have less need for it than some others that I know. In retirement, I serve in a volunteer position as the Spiritual Life and Leadership Mentor for church planters, pastors, and campus ministers in the WestCoast Baptist Association, which is metro Vancouver and Vancouver Island, Canada. Many of these folks are dependent on financial support from friends and churches in the U.S. Obviously, with COVID-19 has come a decrease in income for some financial partners, and they are no longer able to send support to Canada. I, however, am able, and I plan on sharing much of my stimulus check with these Canadian ministers. If you are in a financial situation that is similar to mine, might I suggest you do as I plan on doing. Give some, or all, of your stimulus check to others who are in greater need than you. If you need names of some individuals in need, I will be glad to share their contact information with you. May I just remind you of the words of Jesus, “To whom much is given, from him much will be required” (Luke 12:48).
Some days, it is not so much who you are as it is where you are. Years ago, when I was the Baptist Campus Minister at the University of Texas, I proved this to be true. One of my staff members and I arrived late for the weekly Austin Baptist Association Pastor’s Luncheon. When we entered the room, someone said, “The Liberals are here, we can start now.” Compared to some of the extreme conservatives in the room and given the fact that we served in a rather liberal university environment, we were considered to be liberal. That same afternoon, I attended the meeting of the university ministers, entering the room with the Director of Campus Crusade. As we entered, someone said, “The Fundies are here, we can start now.” Compared to some of the rather extreme liberals in the room, we were considered to be fundamentalist. So, am I a liberal or a fundamentalist? It guess it all depends on where I am. Popeye said, “I yam what I yam.” Better yet, Paul wrote, “By the grace of God I am what I am (1 Corinthians 15:10). What are you? Where are you?
Yesterday was Easter Sunday and I kept thinking of the word, “empty.” For many churches yesterday’s message of an empty tomb was delivered in an empty worship center. These are the days of coronavirus, when churches are under government orders to remain closed and worship can only happen online. Who would have dreamed that the very technology that was so often cursed, is now the medium through which the gospel is shared? Two thousand years ago all the forces of Hell attempted to stop Jesus, but an empty tomb, occupied only by empty grave clothes, proved that they failed. Yesterday, a vicious virus fell victim to empty churches, as empty Worship Centers were filled with the hope of the resurrection. “If Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty, and your faith is also empty” (1 Corinthians 15:14). If something is rocking your world, focus on the stone that was removed to reveal an empty tomb.
It had been one of those long, sleepless nights – the kind where you keep waking up and talking to God. The issue causing my insomnia, was troubling, and I kept thinking, that I just needed to keep talking with God about it. After all, I had spent a career teaching and preaching that God wanted to hear from us. It was still dark when I finally gave up, and got up. I got dressed and got in the car to look for a place to eat breakfast, still talking with God. As the car engine came on, the Sirius radio began to play – SXM Channel 65, enLigthen. It was Sheri Easter, singing, “I’ll be quiet so You can hear my heart.” Half way to breakfast, it hit me. God had heard all of my words that He needed to hear. I just needed to be quiet and let God hear my heart. Reflecting on the words of the song, my mind transferred to Psalm 46:10, “Be still, (cease striving, NASB; calm down, Contemporary English Version) and know that I am God.” Then my mind switched to Habakkuk 2:20, “The Lord is in His holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before Him” or better yet, the paraphrase of The Message, “Quiet everyone—a holy silence. Listen!” Sometimes we need to talk with God. Sometimes we need to just be quiet.
Thanks to the Coronavirus, I am sheltered in place, but I am also going cold turkey. Wikipedia defines “cold turkey” as “the abrupt cessation of a substance dependence and the resulting unpleasant experience,” No, I don’t have any drug addictions to cancel, nor am I an alcoholic, and I never smoked, except once in first grade, when my next-door-neighbor friend got a pack of his father’s cigarettes so he and I could smoke them behind the barn. Two weeks later, I stopped vomiting and color returned to my face. Funny how I’ve never desired another cigarette. So, what kind of cold turkey am I experiencing? Sports. Due to coronavirus all spring sports have been cancelled. No March madness. No spring training baseball on TV. Nothing on the Golf Channel. Ice Hockey is over, even in Canada. NASCAR engines are silent. A recent weekend TV listing in the newspaper Sports Section stated, “No live or same-day taped events.” I don’t have cold sweats, but I am having strange withdrawal symptoms, like watching multiple re-runs of “All in the Family” followed by “Sanford and Son.” Oh, and I’ve been spending more time reading my Bible, and that’s good. Just this week, I was reminded that God’s people were told to “shelter in place” so to speak: “You shall take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and strike the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. And none of you shall go out of the door of his house until morning” (Exodus 12:22). So, it’s not so bad. God is with us. “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10). If you are “sheltered in place,” you are not alone, nor are you alone if you are going cold turkey on sports.
I had occasionally sung in the shower, but I had never sung at the sink before. Now, thanks to the CaronaVirus, I am told to wash my hands many times each day and to continue for a minimum of twenty seconds. (I confess I have not washed enough to reach the level of one who admitted that he had washed his hands so many times, he found his 9th grade Algebra cheat notes.) To assist, it is suggested that sing while I wash. I tried singing Happy Birthday, but I aged too fast. Singing my school alma mater got tiring since our tradition is to always stand and face Old Main as we sing. I tried a few hymns, but could only remember the first, second, and last verse (only readers my age and older will understand this), finally I settled on some Willie Nelson favorites. Then I remembered that the Psalms speak often of singing “a new song” (Psalm 33:3; 96:1; 98:1; 144:9; 149:1). While I have written poetry, I had only seldom attempted to write songs. But, why not? After all, my age group has been told to stay at home all day, so I’m looking for things to fill my time. How’s this (with partial apologies to a really old Palacios Baptist Encampment song):
“Om-pa, om-pa, om-pa, om-pa,
killy, killy, killy, killy,
wash, wash, wash, wash,
key-eye, key-eye, ki-yah.
All hail to my good health; the sink is where I always start.
All hail to my clean hands, I pray they always match my heart.”
Thank you! Thank you very much!
“He who has clean hands and a pure heart” (Psalm 24:4). “I will wash my hands in innocence” (Psalm 26:6).
Two facts face us today. We are in a global crisis – a pandemic. No use to quote statistics related to the Caronavirus (COVID-19), since they are changing so rapidly that there will be a wide gap between what I write and what you read. The second fact is that leaders from presidents, to governors, to mayors to religious leaders are calling for days and times of prayer. If you are not one who prays on a regular basis, you may need some assistance. After all, crisis praying is by nature a spasmodic cry of emergency rather than the consistent communication of a godly life. Crisis is not the best time to get acquainted or re-acquainted with God. One thing for sure, he prays best in crisis, who prays consistently before crisis. If you are a regular pray-er, perhaps you can share this with someone who is not. So, how do we pray in times of crisis? Consider the model of Jesus, praying in Gethsemane, as recorded in Matthew 26. First, he called on His Father. Only children of God can be assured of being heard when they call on their heavenly father. While others may be heard, there is sufficient biblical evidence that God listens to the prayers of His children. To send the prayer anywhere else is useless, although I read often of someone who is “sending prayers your way.” Facing imminent death, Jesus taught us how to face the crisis head-on – “Stay here and watch with Me” . . . “He went a little farther and fell on His face and prayed” (Matthew 26:38). Then Jesus defined the crisis – ““My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death” (Matthew 26:38). Next, Jesus evaluated the options – “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me” (Matthew 26:39). Finally, Jesus came to a firm decision – “Your will be done” (Matthew 26:42). In Luke’s account of the Gethsemane experience, another dimension of crisis praying appears, namely that Jesus was empowered to face the crisis – “Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him” (Luke 22:43). These are crisis times, times that call not only for prayer, but for correct prayer. Let us pray!
Recently I passed through Buffalo, Texas and wondered. Have you ever reflected on an early life decision and wondered how things might have gone had you made a different decision? I was in my final semester of my first seminary degree and serving as pastor of my second church, when two choices presented themselves to me. I could move to a larger, full-time pastorate in Buffalo, Texas or I could begin collegiate ministry at Pan American College in Edinburg, Texas near the Mexican border. I had pastoral experience. I had no collegiate ministry experience, nor did I even know where Edinburg was, and I had never heard of Pan American College (now University of Texas Rio Grande Valley). So, I decided on what I felt God leading — collegiate ministry. I wonder how things would be different had I chosen Buffalo? For one thing, apart from family members and classmates, I might not have ever met the rest of my Monday Morning Manna readers. In retrospect, the Buffalo vs. college ministry decision seems to have been from the Lord. I wish I could say with the writer of Proverbs, “every decision is from the Lord” (Proverbs 16:33), but others appear not to have been. How about you? Ever wondered about a decision?
This past weekend I attended my High School class reunion – Reagan High School in Houston, Texas. The name was changed a few years ago by the Houston School Board, because they discovered that John H. Reagan was actually Postmaster of the Confederacy, and that was considered too racist. The school name was returned to its original name – Heights High School, so named at its beginning in 1904, because it was located in the Heights area of Houston. But that was not the only change. Classmates, who were with us at the last reunion, five years ago, were no longer with us. My best friend, Jimmy Don, died several years ago, and I officiated his funeral. My friend, Bill, told me at our last reunion, that he often quoted my “Monday Morning Manna” and I wasn’t even aware that he read it. A very cute girl (who shall remain nameless) confessed that she had been Baptist all her life. Interesting. Had I known that then, I would have dated her, but, by parental rule, I was only allowed to date Baptist girls, and I didn’t know she was a Baptist. Well, this reunion was marked by renewed friendships, and relived experiences. It seemed that many sentences began with, “Do you remember . . .” Surely memory is one of God’s best gifts to us. What Paul said of the church in Philippi, I would say of my classmates, “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you” (Philippians 1:3).