The Pastor’s Corner is written by the pastor of Coronado Bible Church.

Two-Way Worship

Are there any advantages to “digital church?” Well … there’s the comfort of pajamas. The brain cells saved by not deciding what you’ll wear … or trying to remember what you wore last week. How about comfortable seating? Please text me if you’ve managed to stay awake from your Lazy Boy. That would be the ultimate encouragement to a preacher. You can get up and use the restroom without rubbing knees with an entire row of nearly strangers. You can receive a call without glaring around, pretending it’s not your phone.

Funny story about that. During the video service we broadcast that had such serious sound issues, one of our people texted me and said, “Talk to me, I can help you with those sound issues.” So I called him. I was embarrassed … but a little pleased when he hoarsely whispered, “Not now, I’m listening to the pastor!”

Here’s my last one … you can unwrap a hard candy in the middle of the sermon without receiving the collective glare of shame.

Now, let’s talk about what you can’t do from home. Our CBC Bible readthrough just started the book of Romans. This book is considered by many, the Apostle Paul’s greatest work. It’s studied for its deep theological, Christological insights. It’s so well written that excerpts of it have made their way into non-Christian literature classes. I’ve read it many times, but I saw something new this time. I think my eyes were opened to this by my isolation from all of you. In his opening Paul writes …

I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you. I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong—that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. Romans 1:10–12

Pastor Paul was in the first few strokes of penning his greatest sermon ever … and right there, he admitted, “I can’t accomplish everything I’d like to through this medium.” Paul says he wants to see them and impart a spiritual gift to make them strong and then he qualifies that remark. I long to see youthat you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. I have tried to keep encouraging you through these unusual times … but not everything can happen through video. There is something irreplaceable that happens when we worship face to face. Sue and I can sing our heads off … but it’s not the same as joining our voices together. I can muster all my passion in front of the camera … but oh what I’d give for one nodding head. I long to see you, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith!
 
 


My Pain … Your Pain

Sue and I were returning from an anniversary getaway. Not quite ready to jump back into the fray, we dragged our tires slowly through the Mississippi River Valley. A pristine almost empty highway snaked beneath majestic limestone cliffs. We drove to the top of a cliffside park and enjoyed the spectacular views.

That’s when I first noticed some discomfort and commented to Sue that lunch wasn’t agreeing with me. By the time we had gone a few more miles towards home, discomfort had turned to pain … and then alarming pain. I pulled over and let Sue drive. The ache grew by the second and we quickly decided we needed to have someone check me out. The GPS showed a large city on the other side of the river. The bridge finally came into view, but as we swung onto the road to head across, we encountered a row of construction cones. There was no roadbed across the bridge and nothing like civilization for miles on our side of the river. We finally rolled into a little town and Sue hastily parked next to the local fire station. When she emerged with an EMT, he didn’t even get to the car … just looked through the window and got on the radio for an ambulance.

Once in the ambulance, I got the classic question, “Sir, on a scale from one to ten, how would you rate your pain?” It was the worst pain I’d ever experienced, so I said “Ten!”  After they quickly ruled out a few things, they got permission to do some pain management. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would utter the prayer, “Father, thank you for morphine.” I won’t leave you hanging … it was a kidney stone.

Physical pain is hard to quantify. People have different pain thresholds and diverse pain experiences. My “10” might be your “6” and someone else’s “20.” I don’t think it’s that different with how we experience things emotionally. Some of us have simply suffered more and built up a certain immunity. Others have suffered too long with no respite and their emotional reserves are depleted. They are one giant frayed nerve. Still others have little experience with emotional suffering and recoil from the test of our times.

It’s been interesting to see the breadth of response from people to the Covid-19 crisis. Some are almost in tears with fear, while others laugh the whole thing off. What’s disturbing to me is how harshly both groups are judging one another. At least as Christians, one barometer for how well we’re handling the crisis should be how we’re handling the people God places in our path.

I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. Ephesians 4:1–3
 
 
 


Keep Rolling

The first time Sue and I ministered via video was back in 2016 when I was providing pulpit fill for a church in Panama City. The learning curve was brutal. Our camera split every video into ten minute segments. So, I would try to edit my sermon into appropriately timed chunks. I would preach until Sue held up her hand, then hold very still while she restarted the video. Sue was spending hours editing the fragments into one sermon. Then we discovered that if we just kept filming, the camera would combine the segments for us. We needed to just keep rolling.

This new Covid-curve is also pretty steep.  Thankfully, we started doing Facebook Live before we knew we needed it. Still each week of the isolation measures has brought a new challenge. The first Sunday I preached to 21 people, the second Sunday to six and the third Sunday to a one-eyed parishioner on a tripod. Facebook live with a phone was relatively simple … but then thousands of churches around the world jumped on the bandwagon effectively crashing the servers.

That’s why we decided to prerecord and preload the service. We had the service recorded Saturday night, got up extra early to post it to the server … and it aired at Noon. That was the first time in 26 years of fulltime ministry that I was late to church.  It’s been a little stressful, very challenging, and super exciting. Even with the setbacks and frustrations it’s been fun to be reminded that Sue can accomplish anything she sets her mind to. It’s also nice to know that every challenge in life is an opportunity to come out the other side with new skills.

I think the hardest thing to do when making a video … is to just keep rolling. If you make a mistake in front of a live audience, you squirm a little, laugh a little and move on. That’s true even with Facebook Live. What choice do you have? But when you’re prerecording video, it’s tempting to stop and restart every time you goof up. The only trouble is that can turn in to hours of retakes and hours of editing. In life and videos it’s better to just keep rolling. Believers in Jesus have this awesome thing called “grace” that allows us to just keep rolling. Paul put it this way, “One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13–14

God bless and thanks for your patience.
 
 


As If

How are you handling your hygienic incarceration? If you’re strictly following the curfew guidelines you’re down to six hours of freedom a week. If you’re following the intent of the curfew then you’re out even less. Has your freedom of movement ever been so seriously restricted?

Sue and I have been thankful that our confinement includes a yard and that no one has removed our patio furniture or roped off the pool. We know it must be difficult for those of you living in towers. As you are forced to “shelter in place” even a beautiful condo could begin to feel like the proverbial gilded cage.

I’m sure our experience of these restrictions varies greatly. Socializers are probably feeling it more acutely than introverts. In fact, introverts are still writing thank you notes to MINSA. Sue and I find ourselves missing people … but not missing all our self-imposed activities. We really haven’t minded staying home for a change.

Were you sent the fallacious report about the 15-day total quarantine? The one where everything was going to be shut down and the streets would be completely empty? What if it had been true? What if it comes true? How would you handle not being able to leave your house at all for 15 days? I think I would feel like a prisoner.

Let me suggest that we not waste our confinement. If you’re frustrated by the curtailment of your freedoms … think about those around the world imprisoned for their faith in Jesus Christ. Did you know that’s a command in Scripture? Hebrews 13:3 states, “Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”  Pray for the following people by name and put your “suffering” in perspective:

  • Name: Pastor Wang Yi, Location: China, Arrested: December 2018, Sentence: 9 years imprisonment
  • Name: Pastor John Cao, Location: China, Arrested: March 2017, Sentence: 7 years imprisonment
  • Name: Zhang Shaojie, Location: China, Arrested: November 2013, Sentence: 12 years imprisonment
  • Name: Naser Navard-Goltapeh, Location: Iran, Arrested: June 2016, Sentence: 10 years imprisonment
  • Name: Zafar Bhatti, Location: Pakistan, Arrested: July 2012, Sentence: Unknown
  • Name: Pastor Kim Kuk-Gi, Location: North Korea, Arrested: December 2014, Sentence: Life imprisonment
  • Name: Mussie Ezaz, Location: Eritrea, Arrested: September 2007, Sentence: Indefinite
Realistically … we are not suffering and it’s not for our faith. Still, how do you feel being told you can’t go to church? By law, nobody is allowed out on Sundays. Places all over the world are arguing whether worship is an “essential service.” This is not religious persecution, but we might be better able to imagine what that would be like. I pray that having your sense of freedom challenged will make you appreciate what you have. For instance, your Bible. April 1st marked the beginning of CBC’s second read-through of the New Testament. Let me know if you need a schedule. It’s not like you’ve got somewhere else to be 😊.
 
 
 


Field of Focus:

The last few mornings, Sue and I have been able to linger over our coffee longer than usual. Being forced to be home is not all bad.

We pulled out our SLR to photograph of some of the birds that join us every morning. Especially difficult to capture are the hummingbirds. Their rapid darting motions make focusing a challenge. Their high-speed wings require a high-speed shutter. The picture in this post was captured at 1000th of a second at f-6.3. Most birds would look like a statue at those speeds, but this guy’s little wings still show plenty of movement.

In my quest for a crystal clear, stop-action shot, I pushed my ISO from 200 to 400 and achieved well-lit test shots of the feeder at 2000th of second. Then I waited … lens supported, focused on the feeder, eye to the viewfinder. I waited until my arm started shaking. I propped my arm up on the chair and waited some more.

At one point I sat back to relax my tired shoulder and there was the hummingbird hovering just outside the camera’s field of view. Sue pointed out later that for much of the time the little guy was perched on a branch ten feet from my head.

Field of view is vital in photography. A good picture has a clear subject, captured in crisp detail. But I had forgotten something about good nature photographers … they shoot with both eyes open. They know where their camera is pointed and then watch the world outside that narrow field of view. It allows them to see what’s coming … it allows them enough time to react when the subject enters the plane.

I have had several long conversations with Sue that were wholly about Covid-19. Sometimes in life we do that. We focus in, we crop other things out, we go in for the details. But don’t keep your eye glued to that viewfinder too long. You might be missing other things God wants you to see. People who need you … you might even miss Him if your field of view stays too tight for too long. Live with both eyes open.

One way you can do this is in your speech. Be sure that your friends and loved ones aren’t only hearing from you about Covid-19. Now’s a good time to dig up some good memories, reach out and say, “l love you.” As a Christian be certain people in your circle of influence are hearing hope. If you are a disseminator of fear … it will keep you in fear. Widen your field of view. What do the people around you need? You may be the only person to point them toward hope in Christ.

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. Colossians 4:5–6 (See also 1 Peter 3:15-17)