So I will bless you as long as I live;
in your name I will lift up my hands.
Psalm 64:4 ESV
While the Bible tells us to lift up our hands, we rarely stop to think of why. Of course, we all would agree that we lift up our hands in praise, but here are a few others to consider. The first, is what we do what our teachers do while taking attendance. They call our name and like Isaiah when he saw the Lord, we cry out, “Lord here I am!”
Another is what we used to witness regularly when we lived in the inner city. This lifting of the hands happened when blue and red lights accompanied by sirens told us that someone was getting arrested on our block. After a shout of “Show me your hands!” another arrest gave assurance that someone had surrendered. Of course, Jesus doesn’t put a gun to our heads. Instead, our surrender is a result of His love breaking through hard hearts. We are glad to be taken into custody because we know that God has way better things in mind for us than we could imagine.
But one reason you might not have considered, is the one I discovered years ago when our children were small. After working a day that began before anyone in the house was even awake, I would wearily climb the stairs to our apartment, put the keys in the lock. Then, I would hear the pounding of little feet as our little two boys came running. As soon as the door opened, they would stretch up their hands shouting, “Daddy pick me up! Daddy pick me up!” How we need to remember this lifting of our hands to God. If we are worn out from carrying a heavy load, remember that Jesus is at our door right now. Or if we have failed miserably and are feeling ashamed, remember we are still in His house and we can always run to Him. He is with us to strengthen, forgive, comfort and light our way. So let’s lift up our hands to Him and cry, “Dady pick me up! Daddy pick me up!”
Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 1 Peter 2:10 ESV
Today’s verse talks about us being God’s people and members in a community. It reminds me of a small town near where we used to live that had a sign as you entered that said, “Welcome to Nicholson: Home of 1500 friendly people and a few cranks!” We always laughed when we saw it, and even though we lived far out in the surrounding countryside, it gave us a sense of belonging – even if some of our neighbors were cranks! As Americans, we rightly prize our personal freedoms, but sometimes our emphasis on individualism leaves us failing to see ourselves as a part of a community. We become like the lyrics from the old Simon and Garfunkel song, “I am a rock, I am an Island.” For those in long-term care, this often leads to a disconnection that means no one calls us on our birthday, sends a Mother’s Day card or comes to visit at Thanksgiving. Sure, there are other residents, but the people who once formed our community are now absent. Sons and daughters, live in other states, grandchildren have no idea how to communicate if you’re not on Tik-Tok and even pastors are usually too busy to stop in and visit. How can we make a difference?
But instead of offering you a practical list of things to do, let me relate a personal story, that may help you to see how you can be a part of connecting people to community.
When I was still a landscaper, we worked for an older couple, named Al and Eleanor Castelli. Though the Castelli’s were a nice enough customers, they also were quite demanding. But as Al’s health began to decline, and dementia set in, Eleanor sometimes asked me to sit with Al while she went shopping. While she went to the store, I would listen to Al’s stories of growing up in the Bronx, working as a salesman at a radio station and how his mom made the best Italian food on the planet! For the next four years, we became friends. During that time period I was gradually retiring from my business, but I continued to do odd jobs for Eleanor, sit with Al and when he entered a nursing facility, it was only natural to come and visit. The highlight of those visits was an afternoon I came in to sing Christmas carols, and we ended up with an audience of a dozen people who were singing along! You see, it isn’t the “big” things we do, the formal ministries or the charities that we donate to that make the most difference. God’s community is bonded together by a series of our choices as the love of Jesus Christ flows out through our everyday lives and leads people to Him. That love always begins with Him, but God is asking us to help Him make the connection!
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” Isaiah 52:7 ESV
Any of us who has been involved in nursing home ministry over the last three years, has lived through some heartbreaking events and faced challenges that we never imagined before. This has often left us scrambling to find new ways to continue to reach people who are in those closed facilities. Just as a carpenter carries more than one tool in his toolbox, so we need all kinds of different ways to present the gospel. One tool which God just “happened” to put on my heart not long before the pandemic, is a newsletter. Beginning as “Pastor Pete’s Newsletter” I passed these out at one facility as a little something extra. When Covid closed the doors to all three of the nursing homes where I had been visiting, I began emailing the newsletter to the activity directors. Thinking that the closures would be for only a few months I didn’t give much thought to making improvements, but months dragged on, and we passed Easter, Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas without any glimmer of hope for a return to normal. By the end of that year, God impressed on my heart to expand the newsletter outreach and just then several other people volunteered to help and together, we began to publish the “Sunshine Newsletter”. With three other writers and one graphic artist we have moved to a two-page color format and the distribution expanded to four facilities in Florida, five in New York and one in Ohio. Today I wanted to share three blessings that we have discovered.
Blessing number one is that the newsletter can go where we cannot. Isaiah’s verse tells if that publishing good news is what we are called to do. How we publish that news will depend on where we are and more importantly, where God is calling us to go. A newsletter is a valuable tool, but just as a cheap set of wrenches sell for $15, while another with a lifetime warrantee goes for $199, so the quality of our presentation matters. It will take an investment of your time and money to publish even a single page, but it will be worth it all if we can encourage, comfort and point people to Jesus in places where we are unable to go.
Secondly, our newsletter goes to people who have not come for our meetings. We are leaving our newsletter in the hands of friends who often share it with a roommate, a family member or even a member of the staff. In fact, many times we have encountered situations, where the staff take the time to read our newsletter out loud for the residents. Just as when the rain falls, everyone’s roof gets wet, so when we publish a newsletter, its message reaches people we never imagined.
Last of all, a newsletter serves as a durable reminder of the hope of Jesus. Once printed, it may sit on a nightstand for months, and just at the right time be available to be read again. One thing you might consider is including an email or a phone number that people can use to contact you for needs, prayer requests or suggestions. It has been rare, but there have been occasions when I was invited to visit someone new, because their friend contacted me by text or email. When we sow seeds in a wide path, we never know where they may grow! If anyone has questions, ideas or suggestions on this I would love to hear them. If you are interested in receiving Sunshine Newsletter, I’ll be happy to include you on our mailing list. You can contact me at Revpete51@gmail.com. We also are always looking for short devotional submissions, or personal inspiring stories of 250-300 words. God bless and have a good week everybody! Here is this week’s newsletter. They are free for you to print or to publish on social media.
Matthew 25:40 And the King will answer them and say; “Truly I say to you, as you did it to the least of these my brothers, you did it to Me.”
One night recently one of the reporters on the news said we shouldn’t panic about the Corona virus in China because it seems to only kill the old and weak. I confess that I was only half listening and didn’t give it much thought at the time. But the next day as I was singing for people at the nursing home and watching the faces of my precious friends it hit me those old and weak folks that the reporter mentioned are our moms, dads, older brothers and friends.
Though we as believers shouldn’t be fearfully hiding at home we need to recall what Jesus had to say about people considered helpless and less valued in this world. Instead of running in fear we should first pray. Ask God for His grace to help and then ask what we can do to put our arms around all of His family all over the world!