Sheptock, Rudy

Pastor Rudy Sheptock.

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I was about to begin our Saturday Night Service, which was provided online, when my brother, Robert, called. I couldn’t answer the phone, as I knew I wouldn’t have time to talk, so it went right to voicemail.

Not a minute or two later, my phone buzzed again. This time, it was my sister, Mary Claire. I knew something was up, so while my daughter, Abbie, was leading worship, I answered my phone, and the first words I heard were, “Mom was tested, and the results came back today. She has the coronavirus.”

I felt suddenly socked in the gut, as I knew in a few moments, I was about to bring a message of faith and hope to onlookers who needed their pastor to encourage them during these times.

Mom, age 82, lives in Florida, where the majority of my family resides. My siblings there take great care of her, as she is a strong Italian woman of abiding faith, who still exudes a lot of life and energy with no signs of slowing down, until this past week. This unwelcome virus, which has altered our lifestyles, was suddenly draining my mom of her get up and go, and she doesn’t give in easily.

I talked to her that Saturday night, and I didn’t recognize her voice at first. I told her how much I loved her, and that I would be enlisting an army of believers to pray for her.

I preached two different messages this past weekend; one for Saturday and another for Sunday. Preaching and pastoring are not my job; they are extensions of my soul.

If I didn’t believe that the Bible was true and that Jesus was my Savior and Lord, I would have a different job. I believe I wouldn’t have survived the trials and tribulations of life on earth.

For Saturday's message, I looked at Nehemiah, and how he refused to believe that God abandoned His people.

When Nehemiah, who was in Persia, as the king’s cupbearer, received the unfortunate news of how awful conditions were going in Jerusalem, he mourned, fasted and prayed. Nehemiah got still before the Lord, and before he acted, he sought God’s plan for him in the midst of such chaotic times.

I believe that we have become too mechanical in our worship of the Lord in America. Something that we might learn, as we all try to adapt to a quarantined culture, is rather than stamp God’s name on our events and programs, we might wait for the Lord to direct us before we begin to act on His behalf.

Look at how life in Cape May County has changed in such a short time. Since the beginning of the pandemic, I have encouraged Christians to look for Jesus daily, and how He is still present and at work among us, even though we are experiencing a new world.

Americans have a tendency to get bogged down in the past or overwhelmed by the future, to the point that they can become blind to life happening before their eyes. None of us can truly deal with the "what ifs," but we can control how we handle them.

We are on earth to shine our light brightly, even in the darkest times, but the only way we will keep our wick lit is if we consistently run to the Holy Spirit to ignite the flame.

For Sunday's message, I shared with our congregation that rather than seeking presents from Jesus, we choose to become more dependent upon His presence. Too often, we get greedy for God to give us what we want, when what we really need is Him. “The Lord is my Shepherd, I don’t need another thing.”

If I cling to the truth that He will never leave me or forsake me, then I won’t get out of sorts when life doesn't happen in my favor. I don’t follow Jesus because life doesn't challenge me. Instead, I follow Him because I know the journey this side of heaven is filled with bumps, bruises and a lot of battering rams.

More than the miracles that God has done for me, it is His accompanying me that allows me to press on when my heart feels like it is going to burst.

I was able to preach passionately minutes after receiving the news about my mom because I know whom I have believed in, and I am thoroughly persuaded that He is able to guard what matters most, despite what might happen on earth. God’s people will get the coronavirus. It doesn’t make it any more palatable, but it gives us purpose in the pain.

Jesus took on much worse than a virus to set us free from sin and death. He, who knew no sin, became sin for us so that anything like this sickness could only mess with the body but have no grip on the soul.

I gave up my self-reliance long ago. I know my abilities are severely limited. I gave my life to Jesus, despite what others think, because I knew He was the One who could lead me to the only paradise worth having.

Many people think I’m crazy, but I’m not taking a poll to see whether a life of faith is worth the blood, sweat and tears. God said it, and that settles it for me. I have come to the place where I believe that God is big enough to back up His promises.

In this world, we will all have to face the results of a sin torn planet, but I can be of great cheer because Jesus has overcome the world. Because He lives, not only can I face tomorrow, I can even find seeds of life growing in the concrete of today.

I love my mom, and I believe God only needs to say the word and she will be healed. However, I also know that she longs to join her Savior in glory.

It’s been 20 years since my dad graduated to be with Jesus. The other night, I dreamt that I heard the trumpet and was experiencing the return of our Lord. It was so real; I could actually feel the release and wind in my face as I soared towards the sky. I was even holding my wife’s hand.

When I woke up, I was so disappointed that I was still in my bed. It took me a few moments before I realized that if I had a pulse, I still had a purpose - another day to walk by faith and not by sight.

I don’t know where you stand with the Lord. Unfortunately, for far too many, faith plays a tiny role in life's big picture. God loves you.

We all have sinned and have fallen too short of trying to impress the Lord with our petty petitions and egotistical good works. God made the move when Jesus took the punishment that we deserved on our behalf.

Whoever believes in Him will be rescued. Whoever trusts in Him will have eternal life.

This gift doesn’t begin after we die. It is initiated the moment we surrender ourselves to God. It is by grace through faith that we can know beyond a doubt that we belong to Jesus.

Have you made that decision? I wish you would.

I have much to live for. My daughter, Leah, recently had twins. My son, Joel, hasn’t graduated high school yet. My other daughter, Abbie, needs me to walk her down the aisle someday.

I have many more messages to say, articles to write and music to play on the radio. If I caught this virus and it took my earthly life away, you wouldn’t have to weep for me because like my mom, I can’t lose. I win either way.

The apostle, Paul, said it this way, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

Let’s walk by faith and not be driven by fear. God holds my future. How about you?

ED. NOTE: The author is the senior pastor of The Lighthouse Church, 1248 Route 9 South, Court House.