To Elliot, on the Occasion of His 18th Birthday

Dear Elliot,

Happy Birthday! It’s a weird birthday, with everyone ordered to shelter-in-place because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, I’m praying that it can somehow be a Happy Birthday.

Elliot

You’ve brought so much happiness to my life over these last eighteen years — and a person’s 18th Birthday is such a significant milestone — that it just seems appropriate to with you happiness. But then again, I guess you’re also kind of weird, too (in a very lovable way). I think of your funny voices, the pranks you pull, your bizarre fascination with jumping from great heights into deep waters, and all the other weird and wonderful things you do. So, the weirdness of this occasion is perhaps also somewhat appropriate. So: here’s to a Happy, Weird Birthday for you, Elliot!

In all my 43 years, I’ve never experienced something quite like this COVID-19 situation that’s overshadowing everything these days. Such unfamiliarity is surprisingly rare at this stage in my life. I usually have some level of life experience from which I can draw wisdom for a given situation, or at least I know someone to whom I could turn for wise counsel. But not with this situation. We’re all learning as we go.

Elliot Senior Night

You may actually be in the most ideal phase of life to learn from this experience and allow it to inform a lifetime of leadership at home, in the church, in the marketplace, and in society at large. You’re old enough to understand and remember, but young enough to hold this knowledge for decades and decades into the future.

Elliot

I’m hoping and praying that the COVID-19 pandemic will not be all waste and loss and grief — although these will be prevalent themes through much of life. I’m hoping and praying that there might be some light at the end of tunnel, like the Hebrew prophet Joel was promised by the Lord during a time of famine and plague: “I will give you back what you lost to the swarming locusts, the hopping locusts, the stripping locusts, and the cutting locusts… Once again you will have all the food you want, and you will praise the Lord your God…” (Joel 2:25-26). I really don’t know what the coming months and years will hold, Elliot. Nobody does. But I know Who holds the future, and that brings me a great deal of comfort.

Honeymoon - Sunset

Your mother and I were filled with a sense of awe and joy, when we learned that you had been conceived. I remember watching a sunset in August of 2001 and just soaking in the beauty and power of life continually renewed and reproduced by our Creator. I was so happy to be a father. It felt like such an honor.

ErMandEl1

But then, only a month later, our lives were challenged and changed by the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001. As I’ve been racking my brain for parallels to this pandemic, September of 2001 is the best comparative data-point my mind has been able to conjure. It was another time when millions of Americans vacated the public square, scattered to the confines of their own homes, worried about what might still be coming for them, and watched lots and lots of television to try and get a handle on what was happening. (It’s not anywhere near the scale, duration, or personal threat level that we seem to be experiencing right now, but still…). You were still in your first trimester of development — but suddenly it felt scary to be a prospective parent. The beauty and power of life was tempered by the terror of death and destruction. I was horrified to think that I was responsible for bringing another person into this mess. I was sobered by the realization of all the emotions and experiences that together make up life.

Over time, I’ve made peace with these things. A tenuous peace, granted. It’s been disrupted and unsettled many times — including the last three weeks of dealing with our pandemic — but I’ve always found my way back to faith, hope, and love.

Elliot

You were born on Good Friday. We brought you home on Easter Sunday. 

There’s powerful symbolism in those days of the Christian observance of Holy Week. I’m not trying to pronounce you as any sort of “Chosen One” (I mean, would a “Chosen One” really have that much difficulty putting his laundry away?!?). But I fully believe that you have what it takes, Elliot, to live a life that is informed and empowered by both the crucifixions and the resurrections of our world. You have what it takes to be a man who provides strength, courage, and leadership in a balanced, faith-filled, hopeful way that brings people back to the greatest thing that will remain: love.

Unfortunately, the “Fridays” are going to keep coming. You were brought into the world during a time of war. You’ve come of age in a time of pestilence. And in between, you’ve experienced all sorts of disappointment, disillusionment, and death. Your coaches have overlooked your potential. Your hard work for DECA has gone unrewarded because of state and national competitions being canceled. Your dating experiences haven’t amounted to much because of miscommunication and mismatched expectations. Your own sin and brokenness have caught up with you, as well. The loss of such a significant swath of your senior year is only the latest in a long line of losses to be grieved, past, present, and future. And even though I’ve often wished to shelter you from such pain, I’ve come to see that it’s impossible. No father (even our Heavenly Father) can spare his son from the “Fridays” of life. Now that you’re legally an adult, you’ll have to increasingly bear the brunt of this painful reality.

But take heart! Don’t be afraid! You have what it takes to reject passivity, embrace responsibility, lead courageously, and live with an eye on eternity. I believe in you. And I hope to walk with you for many years to come, providing love and support. From an appropriate distance.

The Good News is that “Sundays” are going to keep coming, too. Jesus Christ rose from the dead on a Sunday morning. The Cleveland Cavaliers completed their comeback from a 3-1 deficit in the 2016 NBA finals on a Sunday afternoon. War and pestilence cannot stop the daffodils from blooming each spring, and they haven’t stopped you from growing into a fine young man, either. You are remarkably full of life.

Elliot

Physically, you amaze me with your size and strength. You drink three gallons of milk per week, and you eat twice as much as I consume in a given day. You elevate above 10’ basketball rims to throw down dunks with authority. You astonish me with your speed on the track and your power on the soccer pitch. Life is just bursting out of you as you grow, Elliot, and it’s amazing to watch.

Intellectually, you show an incredible aptitude for learning. How many books have you zoomed through already over the last two weeks of school being cancelled?!? Maybe ten?!? You were so ready to rock that DECA project with Kyle, before the state and national competitions were cancelled. You scored almost twenty percent higher than I did on the ACT exam! I’m super-proud of your intelligence.

Emotionally, too, I’m so impressed with your maturity and consideration for others. You are one of the best gift-givers I know (especially when it comes to gifts for your sister). You thrive when you’re around other people, and I think it’s largely because your heart is so big — so full of life.

Best of all, though, I have great confidence for your “entrance to adulthood” and your ability to navigate all of the Fridays and the Sundays, all of the crucifixions and the resurrections, because of the way that you exude eternal life through your relationship with God, in Jesus Christ. Spiritually, you’ve grown a lot in the last year. You’re taking off — like you do on a basketball dunk, like you do on a standardized test, like you do meming with Danny to make TikToks for millions — and with the Resurrection power of Jesus on your side, it feels like the sky’s the limit. 

You are a large part of the reason why I feel so strongly that we’ll make it through this pandemic. You’ve got everything that you need for life and godliness through your knowledge of Jesus (2 Peter 1:3). There’s nothing that can separate you from the love of God — so if He is for you, who can ever be against you? No one. Nothing. (Romans 8:31).

I’m so proud to call you my son, Elliot. I’m so glad that we get to celebrate your life today, even as there’s so much fear of disease and death around us. I really do wish you a Happy, Weird Birthday! I love you, and I’m looking forward to seeing what God does in your life.

Dad

Posted in Children, Family, God, Home, Introspection, Leadership, Nostalgia, Photography, Prayer, The Bible, Transition, Writing | Leave a comment

COVID-13.1

Believe it or not: I ran a half-marathon this morning!

It wasn’t a USATF certified course, and it was very different from most of the other half-marathons I’ve run because all large-scale events have been cancelled due to the COVID-13.1 pandemic.

But this was supposed to be race weekend for my friend, Tyler.

Our friend Grace had also conceived the idea to organize virtual running events through her initiative #DistanceForGood (with “race fees” benefitting organizations helping to combat the COVID-19 pandemic).

So I decided to join them, along with another friend and regular Saturday-morning running partner, Mark.

And we all ran 13.1 miles together this morning — “Keeping the Distance, Going the Distance.”

It was fun! It was nice to get out of the house. The scenery between Kent, Streetsboro, Hudson, and Stow was surprisingly beautiful, with rolling hills, farm fields, and grazing alpacas. We enjoyed good conversation along the way. And we actually managed to avoid most of the rain and all of the thunderstorms that were passing through the area this morning.

I’m still trying to figure out where to send my “race fees” (suggestions are welcome)… but probably something like the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank or the Haven of Portage County. In any event, I’m glad for running and glad for friends.

(NOTE: Grace made the amazing Finishers’ Photos featured in this post. Nice to have a designer as a part of the group!)

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A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

I just finished reading Donald Miller’s book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. I’ve appreciated some of Miller’s other writing. So when this book recently came up in a conversation with some friends, I decided to give it a try. I thought I was going to have tons of time to read during the current quarantine from the COVID-19 pandemic, but this is actually the first book I’ve managed to finish since everything started shutting down in the second week of March.

It turned out to be a good place to start my pandemic reading, though. It’s the memoir of a man who largely sequestered himself from the rest of society. He stayed mostly at home, writing on his laptop. He was scared to pursue relationships, fearful of the ways his past could impact his present and his future. The story of this book really started gaining traction when some film producers came to develop a screenplay of one of his more successful books. They started talking with the author about the way films depend on a clearly-defined story arc (even more than books do). And so, ironically, the author started learning about structuring good stories.

His own “inciting incident” came when he realized that his own life wasn’t a very good story. And that he wanted to do something to change it. He started a quest to train for a cross-continental bicycle ride, look for his long-lost father, and pursue a woman. And along the way, he took note of the way his story changes.

I appreciated this book, both as a writer and as a pastor (Donald Miller also happens to draw a lot of inspiration from his faith in Jesus). I think the book gives us inspiration through introspection, especially during this ad hoc “sabbatical” that’s been granted to us. However, it may be challenging to implement these elements to a better story until the quarantine lifts. All the same, I recommend this book to anyone looking for something constructive to read these days.

Posted in Bicycling, Church, Culture, God, Introspection, Recommendations, Recommended Reading | Leave a comment

New Phase

I now know someone with a confirmed case of COVID-19. Unfortunately, it’s one of the more vulnerable people that I might have feared could get infected: my friend, John Drage. He’s currently fighting COVID-19 and viral pneumonia on top of cancer in his brain and spine.

It feels pretty scary to know the odds against him. This feels like it ushers in a whole new phase of this thing for me.

I’m not as discouraged about the orders to shelter-in-place. I’m figuring out ways to continue with ministry in this strange new reality, and I’m honestly feeling just about as busy and effective in my pastoral duties as usual. My family seems to be adjusting, too. The kids are figuring out ways to occupy themselves and maybe even bond together more tightly, forging memories that will last far beyond the end of COVID-19. There’s still a sense of grief from the losses that have mounted up, and the losses that might be still to come. But even these things feel a bit easier to leave in God’s hands.

I just feel more exposed to the destruction of the pandemic itself, now that it’s come sniping at my friends. I’m praying for the Drage family. I know they’ve got all their eternal arrangements worked out. But there’s just a heaviness in my heart today. A heavy heart is appropriate, I think. We can either deal with our emotions now or stuff them to fester and boil over some other time down the road. But the sadness is real right now.

Many people are going to die in this pandemic — people who mean a lot to other people. But John himself says that the first and main thing is to “Trust the Lord.” So that’s what I’m going to continue to do and urge others to do as well. We do not grieve like those who have no hope. But we do grieve, and we wait upon the Lord.

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Great Oaks

OC LG Reflections on Isaiah 61:1-4

In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks
that the Lord has planted for his own glory.

Isaiah 61:3

We decided to reflect on Isaiah 61:1-4 this week. Me and the other leaders and students of the H2O Off-Campus Life Group. We wanted to find — and forge — beauty in the midst of the chaos that’s recently engulfed us. So we challenged each other to create art from Scripture.

I thought it would be a helpful outlet for the people in our Life Group. But I honestly didn’t expect it to be all that meaningful to me, personally. God has really met me in prayer and meditation, though, and I’ve felt enriched by this challenge. Last Friday’s post “To all who mourn in a place of struggling with God” was one outcome of the process, focusing in on Isaiah 61:3. And today, I felt drawn to the second half of the same verse.

This time of solitude and stillness has created ideal growing conditions for our souls. If we can truly trust God through these trying times, we can put down roots that will sustain a lifetime of growth. Today, I felt like God showed me the possibilities for groves of great oaks that are being planted for God’s own glory.

I’m hoping and praying in that direction today.

Posted in Church, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, God, H2O Kent, Prayer, Small Groups, The Bible | Leave a comment

Encouragement from a Holocaust Survivor

Corrie Ten Boom was living in Haarlem during the time that the Netherlands was occupied by Nazi Germany. Her family’s faith in Jesus Christ prompted them to provide a hiding place for Jews, as the military started to deport them to concentration camps in central Europe. But after some time, their resistance activity was discovered. Consequently, Corrie and her family were sent to the concentration camp where they experienced the horrors of the Holocaust first-hand.

Haarlem - Hiding Place - Eric

I’ve been inspired by Corrie Ten Boom’s writing for many years. Her book The Hiding Place is probably one of my top ten books of all time. Our family even got the chance to visit the Ten Boom House in Haarlem several times during our years of living in the Netherlands. I highly recommend the book under any circumstances. But it does seem like it could be an extra-interesting read for those of us who feel like we’re in hiding, or imprisoned, by the COVID-19 Pandemic that’s happening at this point in history.

This morning, a ministry leader and friend named John Hopler sent out an email that shared some quotes from Corrie Ten Boom. He described her as a women who “is famous for having an undying faith in the midst of great difficulties.” And I agree. She is a model for us during challenging times. So I wanted to post some selections pulled from John’s selected quotes — in the hopes that you will be encouraged by the opportunities for faith and joy in the midst of difficult circumstances:

“You can never learn that Christ is all you need, until Christ is all you have.”

“Happiness isn’t something that depends on our surroundings… it’s something we make inside ourselves.”

“With Jesus, even in our darkest moments the best remains and the very best is yet to be…”

“There is no pit so deep, that God’s love is not deeper still.”

“If God sends us on stony paths, he provides strong shoes.”

“Worry is like a rocking chair: it keeps you moving but doesn’t get you anywhere.”

“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”

“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow. It empties today of its strength.”

“If you look at the world, you’ll be distressed. If you look within, you’ll be depressed. But if you look at Christ, you’ll be at rest.”

Take heart, friends! God is the same yesterday, today, and forever! His people have survived numerous wars, genocides, plagues, and natural disasters. And I have great faith that we’re going to make it through the current crisis, as well. Just be strong and courageous!

Posted in Europe, God, Introspection, Prayer, Reading, Recommendations, Recommended Reading, The Bible, The Netherlands | Leave a comment

A Week in Ashes and Dust

The state of Ohio is nearing total shut-down in its fight to slow the spread of COVID-19. All universities, high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools have been shut down. All restaurants, cafes, and bars have switched to carry-out and delivery only. Today’s elections are postponed. Gatherings of 50 people or more are prohibited, and gatherings of 10 or more are strongly discouraged (leading the majority of churches to suspend regular activities). It wouldn’t shock me if we come to the point in the next few days where everyone is asked to shelter in place.

Personally, I respect the way the Governor’s office has been handling things. They share good, consistent information in digestible quantities each day. They’re not robotic — but also not overly-emotional. Every day, we discover new ways that this pandemic disrupts our lives. But still, we carry on.

One week ago, I had a full day of ministry meetings. Our church was still ramping up for three highly-strategic Spring Break trips. There were a lot of outreach initiatives to coordinate. It was an exciting season of ministry.

We had no idea how quickly things would change.

When Kent State University decided to shut down last Tuesday afternoon, however, we jumped into a week of crisis management and contingency planning. From last Tuesday to this Tuesday, I ended up working far more than a typical week. But now that week is over.

Things are getting quiet now. Strangely silent in the shut-down.

Even as an introvert with a value for the spiritual disciplines of solitude and silence and simplicity, I’m not personally comfortable with this level of shut-down. I feel like I want to be doing something, keeping busy, fighting against the silence and stillness — lest I feel trapped or buried alive.

That’s why this morning’s reading from the H2O Lenten Devotional was so good for my soul. Even though the H2O part was written five years ago and the Lamentations part was written 2,600 years ago — it feels like it’s speaking directly to this week in history!

2015 Lenten Devotional Cover for Web Usage

We have an opportunity this week. We get to depend on the Lord. He is ready to reach out to those who search for him. “So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the Lord.” Even where it feels like it’s unfair (like for graduating seniors), it’s good for young people to learn to submit to the Lord in all things. The Book of Lamentations says, “No one is abandoned by the Lord forever.” Consequently, there’s something to be said for sitting alone in silence. As weird or uncomfortable as it may feel, I see wisdom in the words of the ancient prophets: “Let them lie face down in the dust, for there may be hope at last.”

Last Tuesday to this Tuesday has been a period of intense activity and engagement. I feel like God might be directing this second week — from this Tuesday to next Tuesday — to be a period of intentional inactivity and disengagement. Not in an “every man for himself” way of thinking. In fact, I think we need to be extra-deliberate — especially in a time of intentional isolation — to look out for one another. Still, I want to seize the opportunity presented by our current circumstances to seek God in solitude, stillness, and silence.

It’s not necessarily comfortable to sit in the ashes and dust, like Job did, but it’s all that’s left to us sometimes. And that’s not a bad thing.

Posted in Church, Culture, Culture Shock, God, H2O Kent, Health, Kent, Ohio, Prayer, Recommendations, Recommended Reading, Social Issues, The Bible, The United States of America | Leave a comment

29 Things I’m Grieving as a Pastor this Week

In my current phase of life, it’s increasingly unusual to come across a situation that I’ve never experienced. It’s even more strange to come across a situation that no one else I know has ever experienced. But that’s exactly where we find ourselves with this COVID-19 situation. Society is shutting down around us. Including public worship gatherings.

At this point, it’s still not illegal for churches to gather in groups larger than 100 people (faith communities have been granted special privileges, in an attempt to honor the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution). Even so, our church’s Leadership Team ultimately decided that it — even if it’s not illegal — it may be immoral for us to adopt the “business as usual” mindset.

We honestly don’t know.

I’m reluctant to fault different ministry leaders for coming to different conclusions because, again, the current situation is unprecedented within living memory. But our church’s decision was made slightly easier because of our special relationship with Kent State University. The University made its own decision to shut down campus for the rest of the Spring Semester (and automatically cancel all of the room reservations for our regular church meetings on campus). After much conversation and prayer, our church leadership team cancelled all worship gatherings, all Life Group gatherings, and all other on-campus H2O activities. Even though it may be some time before we really know if our decision was a good one or not, I feel at peace about our course of action.

At the same time, we are acutely aware of the losses that result from this decision. The truth is that I’ve been vacillating wildly between hope and despair (which is at least consistent with other experiences of grief I’ve endured, so not totally unfamilar). I don’t think it’s helpful to sweep sadness under the rug and pretend like it’s not there. In fact, I think it’s extremely valuable to recognize, enumerate, and grieve the losses of that which might have been.

As one of the pastors for H2O Kent, these are some of the specific losses that I’ve been grieving this week:

  1. Life Group plans to study the Book of Hebrews on March 12th
  2. Outreach opportunities on “Fake Paddy’s Day” on March 14th
  3. Our March 15th Worship Gathering
  4. A special Baby Dedication that was supposed to happen to two of the young families in our church on March 15th
  5. The conclusion of our church’s teaching series on the the Apostle Paul’s Letter to Titus
  6. An Evangelism Training event that had been scheduled for March 16th
  7. A week of Life Group outreach activities leading up to Spring Break
  8. Our first Thirsty Thursday Outreach of the Spring season, which had been scheduled for March 19th
  9. The entirety of our church’s teaching series on Justice
  10. Our March 22nd Worship Gathering
  11. Our March 29th Worship Gathering
  12. Life Group plans to study the Book of James on April 2nd
  13. Thirsty Thursday Outreach opportunities on April 2nd
  14. Our newly-envisioned rite of passage ceremony for Sophomores and Seniors on April 3rd
  15. Our April 5th Worship Gathering
  16. Life Group plans to study the letters of John on April 9th
  17. Thirsty Thursday Outreach opportunities on April 9th
  18. Our April 12th Worship Gathering and Easter Celebration
  19. Life Group plans to study the Book of Revelation on April 16th and April 23rd
  20. Our April 19th Worship Gathering
  21. Our annual Family Sunday celebration (combined with the aforementioned Worship Gathering) on April 19th
  22. Our fourth Baptism celebration of the school year (combined with the aforementioned Worship Gathering and Family Sunday celebration) on April 19th
  23. End-of-the-Semester plans to celebrate everything God has done over the course of the school year
  24. At least three weeks (but probably more) of strategic engagement with the campus of Youngstown State University, through the Aspen Project
  25. At least three chances for our whole church to share Communion together at our Worship Gatherings
  26. At least three chances to talk about and practice worshiping God through Giving (which is something we’ve been working on as a church this year)

We’re also currently in the process of shutting down our Spring Break trips. This is especially heart-breaking for me because we had been poised for record-breaking participation in H2O-sponsored Spring Break trips. Unfortunately, these trips are now impossible because of shifts in policy from the federal government, the state government, our participants’ employment agencies, and the administration of Kent State University. We’re still in “Task Mode” at the moment, taking care of all the logistics associated with these trips. But once everything is finalized, there’s going to be another layer of grief to process the further losses to these highly-strategic, high-cost, once-a-year ministry initiatives:

  1. Ten people who have been planning to travel to Stockholm, Sweden, for cross-cultural missions opportunities among the refugee populations of the city’s northern neighborhoods.
  2. Seventeen people who have been planning to travel to Boston, Massachusetts, for opportunities to share the Gospel and explore church-planting possibilities in an area with some of the highest concentration of university students to be found anywhere in North America (or perhaps anywhere in the world).
  3. Fifty-four people have been planning to travel to a camp on the northern boundary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee, for opportunities to learn and practice spiritual disciplines in solitude and in community.

I’ve made a new playlist of sad music that I’m using to help mourn the losses: Chopin’s Raindrop Prelude… Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata… Sufjan Stevens’ Fourth of July… and other such dirges. I’m not sure why it helps to listen to these mournful, minor-key melodies. But it does. Walking in the woods and praying helps, too. I know that the Lord is near to the broken-hearted. But I also know that it doesn’t always feel that way. We must walk by faith during dark times like these and trust that the Lord will lift our heads. Somehow.

Posted in Church, God, H2O Kent, Introspection, Leadership, Prayer, Preaching, Small Groups, The Bible | Leave a comment

An Open Letter from the Pastors of H2O Kent

H2O Letterhead

To H2O Staff, H2O Students, H2O City Members, and H2O Kids,

We are living through strange times in Northeast Ohio. In all our years of life and ministry, we’ve never experienced something quite like this COVID-19 situation. The governor has declared a state of emergency and issued official recommendations to mitigate the threat of contagion at large group gatherings. Specifically, the recommendation from the governor is to avoid domestic and international travel, large gatherings, and communing where people are unable to be 3-6 feet apart. This led Kent State University (among other large state institutions) to cancel classes (and all other on-campus activities) for the next month.

Following the lead of government officials, health officials, and university officials in the contexts in which we conduct our ministry, our church’s Leadership Team made the difficult decision to cancel all worship gatherings, all Life Group gatherings, and all H2O group activities from March 11, 2020 until April 13, 2020.

We are acutely aware of the losses that result from this decision. In the face of such losses, emotions of shock, sadness, anger, disappointment, grief, confusion, and loneliness are entirely appropriate. It might even be natural to wonder: Are we prioritizing physical health at the expense of spiritual health? Without question, our plans have been disrupted. We’ve been presented with significant challenges to our way of life and ministry. But we choose to believe that the current situation also provides significant opportunities for our church. 

Our Opportunity

We’ve been thinking and praying about how H2O Church can provide spiritual support and leadership for a campus that’s put itself into quarantine for the next month.

We don’t know if many of us will get sick from COVID-19. The scientific evidence seems to suggest that the actual threat to our lives and our physical well-being is limited. At the same time, the level of social disruption and the threat to our sense of community and our individual, emotional, and spiritual well-being is already considerable.

People are anxious. People are isolated. People are desperate for hope.

Fortunately, the Bible gives us great hope in times like this. It says that we who belong to the Family of God in Christ don’t have to live in fear (see Romans 8:15 and 2 Timothy 1:7)! Scripture reminds us that our “worst-case scenario” is eternal life with Jesus (Philippians 1:21). Jesus himself seemed to speak to a situation like ours, when he said, “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home” (John 16:32). But he also reminded us that none of us are ever truly alone. He said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

The current situation provides us with opportunities to get back to the essence of the Christian life. We don’t need an elaborate production or a highly-skilled team of musicians to worship the Lord. We don’t need 35-minute monologues from professional preachers to learn new things from the Word of God. We don’t need a crowd of hundreds to experience fellowship in the Spirit. In fact, Jesus explicitly told his followers that, “where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20). He’s a “+ one” to any table of any size, as long as He’s invited and welcomed.

Our Plan

It’s kind of beautiful that the Kent State University quarantine is currently set to conclude on the day after Easter. For thousands of years, Christians have observed this period of purification and preparation in the lead-up to Resurrection Sunday, through the observance of Lent. It’s always provided a special opportunity to meditate on the “+ One” dynamics of an individual’s walk with God. Our externally-impelled separation by disease is really not so different from the time when the first followers of Jesus were forced underground because of political and social pressures connected to the arrest, trial, and crucifixion of their leader, Jesus (see Matthew 26-28, Mark 14-16, Luke 22-24, John 18-21, and Acts 1-2). 

It just so happens that our church regularly publishes devotional guides for the seasons of Advent and Lent (which often correspond with seasons of scattering for our University-centered community). We have not yet put one out for this year’s observance of Lent. But the current COVID-19 situation seems to call for a return to this practice — among others. Here’s what we’re going to do:

For Bible Study: We will publish daily installments of Lenten devotional thoughts. Starting this Sunday, we will post a devotional every morning, and throughout the rest of the day we encourage church interaction through social media, text messaging, phone calls, and even small group gatherings (where two or three gather together as Jesus’ followers).

For Community: We want to pursue community in creative ways. We want to encourage each other to share where each of us are spending the next month of quarantine, through some sort of interactive map (we’ve got some ideas, but suggestions are welcome!). Hopefully, this will help each of us to feel less unknown, less alone.

For Encouragement: We hope that our people can seek each other out for small group gatherings — two or three gathered in Jesus’ name — where they can mutually encourage one another, catch up on life, pray together, reflect together on the day’s Scripture readings, and even break bread together (a creative idea for location sharing will help with this).

For Mission: We believe that God has prepared us to meet the needs of those around us. The evolving situation in our communities increases the need among “the least of these.” We want to “look out for orphans and widows in their distress” (James 1:27). To do this, we need to have our eyes open and be ready to serve those around us in practical ways.

For Hope: There’s still quite some time for circumstances to shift, but we’re already hopeful for the day that we can return to regular rhythms. We are starting to plan for our month of Lenten preparation culminating in some sort of creative celebration on Easter Sunday (we miss you guys already!). 

Our Hearts

The Church is the people of God, united in pursuit of His Kingdom. We’re praying, “May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). We didn’t ask for this current situation, but our church is now scattered for the foreseeable future. We eagerly long for a way to stay connected, but we also want to commission you to “Go” and make the most of this opportunity. So look to God’s Word together. Look out for each other. Encourage one another. Be the Church to one another. We look forward to eventually hearing stories of how God meets you in this season.

Please feel free to contact us with any further questions, concerns, prayer requests, or whatever. We love you guys, and we’re praying for you.

H2O Pastor First Name Signatures

Eric Asp and Jason Slack, H2O Pastors

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