“Shelter in Place” – Blessings and Curses

During these strange times in the midst of the current pandemic, we can learn a lot. Of course, every situation in which we find ourselves can be an opportunity to learn. A good question to ask ourselves is, “What is God trying to teach us?” How can we grow closer to Him and closer to one another, even when circumstances are not ideal?

COVID-19 has changed our lives, at least for now. Will the changes lead to blessings or curses, though? How can we experience the former and not the latter? While I certainly do not have all the answers and realize we are all are different, I do think there are some ways we can see (and experience) blessings in the midst of the chaos. “Shelter in place” offers at least four unique opportunities that God can use for our good.

1. TIME WITH FAMILY

For the vast majority of us who do not live alone but rather live at home with our families (or at least with our spouses), most of us are obviously seeing our families more than usual. For my wife, this includes a lot more reading and schooling (like in the picture above) than she is accustomed to, and I praise God for her efforts! She is doing a great job, and our kids are blessed to have a stay-at-home mom who is adjusting well to the recent changes.

Are you enjoying extra time with your family?

The blessing – If we have the right attitude, recognizing that family is a gift from God, then we will be blessed. Let us use this time to have fun together, to play together, to pray together, to read God’s Word together, to say nice things to one another, and to build up one another. Sure, there will be times we get sick of one another and lose our patience with one another. Will we pray for God’s help, though, that He will use our increased time together to bless our family?

The curse – If we do not receive God’s favor and seek God’s help in honoring him through our families, then this additional time together can certainly become a curse. Rather than doing the above, we might find ourselves saying things we regret and acting like idiots who do not deserve our families. Beware, be careful, be wise, and be loving.

Let us seek and pray for the blessing and not allow our bad attitudes and habits to promote the curse.

2. TIME WITH SELF

This is obvious if you live alone and are practicing self-distancing right now. Even if you live with others, though, you might have more time alone than you typically do. Again, this can be a blessing, or it can be a curse.

The blessing – If we use the extra time with self to develop healthy habits (consistent exercise, healthy eating, regular prayer and Bible study, reading more, etc.), then this increased time alone can be a huge blessing. Furthermore, perhaps you will have even more time than usual to keep up with others via your phone and the internet. This has certainly been the case for me. While I do not have my usual meetings, visits, church services, etc., I have found myself to be even more busy over the past two weeks just trying to keep up with phone calls, text messages, emails, etc. This can be a blessing if we seek to honor God in the time He gives us.

The curse – If we allow the time alone to discourage us, rather than lead us to seek God more and maintain regular contact with others, then this time with self will quickly become a curse. We need God, and we need one another. Be careful, therefore, not to develop habits of self-distancing that will continue when the shelter-in-place orders are lifted. That would be a curse for you and for those who know you.

Let us seek and pray for the blessing and not allow our bad attitudes and habits to promote the curse.

3. TIME APART

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, my family and others throughout our church family will be alone in our homes watching my sermon on our church’s YouTube channel. Physically, we are spending time apart as a church family because of the current directives given for the purpose of limiting the further spread of COVID-19.

Of course, this time apart not only affects churches; it affects nearly all of our relationships outside of our households.

The blessing – If we pray that God will use this time apart to give us a greater longing to be together, He can certainly use this time apart as a blessing. God is always in control, and COVID-19 has not surprised Him. Perhaps He will use this to strengthen and grow His church. Perhaps we will have a greater appreciation for corporate worship and fellowship. Perhaps we will not take our need for one another for granted, but instead will become more committed to our church family. With that perspective and a proper response, our time apart can be a blessing. This can be true with all relationships, and I pray that it will be especially true for our commitment to our church.

The curse – If we allow this time apart to discourage us, it can be a curse. If we take isolation too far and fail to keep in touch with one another via phone, email, social media, etc., it can be a curse. If we do not pray for a longing to be back with family, friends, church family, and other Christ-honoring communities, this time apart can be a curse. If you do not have a community you long to return to when the distancing orders are lifted, you truly are cursed.

Let us seek and pray for the blessing and not allow our bad attitudes and habits to promote the curse.

4. TIME WITH GOD

Possibly the greatest gift that this sheltering in place can offer is more time with God. With the right attitude and intentional actions, God can use this in mighty ways.

The blessing – Maybe you have struggled to be consistent in your commitment to seeking God through His Word and through prayer. If so, what a better time to develop good habits of daily Bible study and ongoing prayer! Even if you are faithful in doing these things each day, what a blessing it could be to have even more time in the Bible and prayer! None of us is where we need to be in our relationship with God, and we will not be on this side of eternity. Thus, this extra time with God can be a huge blessing to seek Him more faithfully and know Him more fully. What changes can you make in your daily schedule to better prioritize your relationship with God? What can you do with your family to better seek after God together? How can you encourage others in their relationship with God via online meetings, phone calls, text messages, emails, and prayer?

Do not use this additional time at home to sleep in later. Go to bed on time, get a good night’s sleep, and start your day off with the blessing of prayer and Bible engagement.

The curse – If you fail to take advantage of this opportunity to spend more time with God, what a travesty that would be! If you refuse to develop consistent, godly habits that afford you the opportunity to grow in your relationship with God, you will surely regret your actions. Of course, the greatest curse in all of this is not being able to spend more time with God because of not having a relationship with Him. Do not wait if you have yet to call on Jesus Christ for eternal life. He died on the cross for your sins and rose from the dead to defeat sin and death for everyone who surrenders to Him. You can experience the blessing (both now and eternally) of a relationship with God by placing your faith in Jesus.

Let us seek and pray for the blessing and not allow our bad attitudes and habits to promote the curse.

ARE YOU BLESSED OR CURSED?

Depending on our attitude and actions, our current situation can be used for good or used for evil. What are you experiencing? What changes can you make in your daily routine to better facilitate good? Pray for God’s help, and maintain healthy relationships with those who will hold you accountable. Let us experience the blessings in the midst of the pandemic!

COVID-19. What if…?

Like so many others, I am praying for God’s grace and mercy in the midst of this Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. While the current projections are anything but favorable, I am asking God to do the impossible and bring an end to COVID-19.

What if, in the meantime, though, we ask God to do an amazing work in our hearts? What if we ask Him to do an amazing work in His church? What if we ask Him to use COVID-19 for His glory and for our good? What if we can one day look back on this pandemic and say, “Wow! God changed so many lives for His kingdom during that difficult time.“?

In the same way September 11, 2001, seemed to drastically increase patriotism in our great nation, what if COVID-19 drastically increases faith in our great God?

Would you join me in praying for three specific results in the coming weeks?

1. PRAY FOR A GROWING HUNGER FOR GOD’S WORD.

If we follow our government’s directives – and I believe we should to the best of our abilities – then we are going to have a lot more time at home until COVID-19 is “under control.” A lot more time isolated from those outside of our household. A lot more time alone, perhaps.

Hey, what a great time to binge-watch television shows and movies! What a plethora of time to waste on social media and the internet!

What if, instead, we prayed for a growing hunger for God’s Word? What if we used the increased time at home to spend more time reading our Bibles, praying from our Bibles, and memorizing Scripture? What if we developed a consistent habit of daily interaction with God through His Word? What if we established a regular routine of family devotions?

How happy are those whose way is blameless, who live according to the Lord’s instruction! Happy are those who keep His decrees and seek Him with all their heart” (Psalm 119:1-2).

If we pray for a growing hunger for God’s Word and sincerely prioritize our Bibles right now, our lives could be changed forever. Our families could be changed forever. Our churches could be changed forever. Our communities could be changed forever. Our world could be changed forever. What could and would God do in and through us if we truly grew in our hunger for His Word? Let’s find out!

2. PRAY FOR A GROWING COMMITMENT TO GOD’S CHURCH.

Most churches – including the church I have the privilege of serving – are wisely choosing to live out the great commandments (love of God and love of neighbor) by honoring our government’s leadership in the midst of this pandemic. Thus, we are canceling services, for now, to help limit the further spread of COVID-19.

People who are marginally committed to their churches might use this “break” as an opportunity to sleep in on Sundays. They might fall out of the habit of regular worship service attendance and church involvement. They might see this as an excuse to “drop out.” I pray that is not the case, but the possibility is real.

For those who sincerely love Jesus, though, a growing love for His church is evident. Thus, what if God were to use this time of separation from your church family to grow your commitment to your church family? What if, out of this pandemic, you realize what a privilege church involvement truly is, and your longing to be back with your church family is overflowing?

God’s multi-faceted wisdom may now be made known through the church to the rulers and authorities in the heavens. This is according to His eternal purpose accomplished in the Messiah, Jesus our Lord” (Ephesians 3:10-11).

If we pray for a growing hunger for God’s Word, and God answers our prayers, then I believe a growing commitment to God’s church will naturally follow. Let’s find out!

3. PRAY FOR A GROWING PASSION FOR GOD’S MISSION.

Likewise, as God grows our hunger for His Word and our commitment to His church, I believe He will increase our passion for His mission. Perhaps we cannot do quite as much as before or quite as much as we would like because of social distancing right now. Then again, perhaps we can do more, or at least different acts of mission and service.

Is this an increased opportunity to serve the elderly who have needs but are unable to leave their homes? Is this an increased opportunity to serve lost family and friends who are fearful and overwhelmed by financial instability and future uncertainty? Is this a vivid reminder to pray for the lost and pray for opportunities to reach out to them, even if only via the phone and/or internet?

Jesus said, “This is what is written: The Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead the third day, and repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations” (Luke 24:46-47).

What if we pray for a growing passion for God’s mission – the gospel to the world? What if God answers that prayer, and as a result, He uses this pandemic to bring about a great spiritual awakening for His glory and for our good? Let’s find out!

If you are struggling to find hope and peace in the midst of this pandemic, would you seek the Lord for His hope and peace? If you have not yet experienced this through a personal relationship with Him, check out The Story.

Humiliation to Honor

Humiliation and honor really do not go together. In fact, if you receive one, you are usually experiencing the opposite of the other. If you are humiliated, you certainly do not feel honored. When you are honored, humiliation is not part of the process.

The Bible paints a different picture, though. In Matthew 26-27, for example, Jesus Christ experiences the epitome of humiliation. Yet, in and through that humiliation, honor occurs in two important ways.

1. GOD IS HONORED

First and foremost, God the Father is honored through the obedience of God the Son submitting Himself to shame, humiliation, and death. Yes, Jesus did all of this for the sake of our salvation, but He did so, above all, for the glory of God.

Jesus humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death— even to death on a cross. For this reason God highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow— of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth—and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:8-11).

Because the Father and the Son are One (John 10:30), of course, Jesus is also honored in and through His humiliation. Humiliation – the humiliation of Jesus Christ – honors God.

2. WE ARE HONORED

As sinful people who have rebelled against our perfect Creator, we do not deserve honor. In fact, what we deserve is the shame, humiliation, and death that Jesus experienced. We deserve hell. Yet, Jesus took on Himself the humiliation that we deserve so that we could receive the honor and inheritance that only He can offer. In Christ, we can receive the honor of adoption into God’s family, resulting in eternal life. Because of Jesus’ humiliation, we are honored – honored to be called children of God.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will preach from Matthew 27:1-31 on “The Humiliation of Jesus,” sharing three aspects of Jesus’ humiliation that His followers should expect, too. That sermon should be available HERE on Sunday afternoon.

The humiliation of Jesus ought to humble us in our response to Him and in our service to others. We ought to have a different perspective on our world and circumstances than we otherwise would if we had not experienced God’s forgiveness through Jesus’ sacrifice. Praise God that because of His love for us, we have the promise of life and honor that only He can give.

Please realize, though, this honor cannot be earned. This honor is not deserved. This honor is not our right but rather a consequence of Jesus’ humiliation. Honor and eternal life are only for those who turn from their sins and place their faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. We must know Him to receive the honor that is eternal.

Do you know and follow Jesus? Are you humbled by the reality that “to all who did receive Him, He gave them the right to be children of God, to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12)?

If you want to know and follow Jesus Christ, check out THE STORY.

The Good Life

This past Saturday, Zoe and I had our monthly daddy-daughter date. Because it was Zoe’s turn to pick where we ate, of course, we went to McDonald’s. Oh, the simple things that are yet so satisfying! When we were sitting there enjoying our meal which cost well under $10 for both of us, we were happy. We were satisfied. Life was good.

Life is full of moments like that, as well as the opposite, is it not? When we are happy and content in our circumstances, we tend to be satisfied with life. When our circumstances are not so good, though, we might find ourselves dissatisfied with life.

CIRCUMSTANCES ARE INADEQUATE

Surely, there is more to “the good life” than circumstances, though, right? Circumstances can change in an instant, so if good circumstances are required for “the good life,” we are all doomed. Our circumstances will eventually let us down. They will eventually disappoint, no matter how much money we have, how healthy we are, how great our jobs are, etc. Circumstances are inadequate.

We can be healthy, wealthy, and well today and then lose everything tomorrow. If you settle for satisfaction in your circumstances, you will one day be disappointed, if not in this life, in the next. There is so much more to life than french fries, happy meals, and fountain soda – even as great as those gifts of God are!

JESUS IS THE ANSWER

If you somehow discovered a circumstance that could never change (i.e. wealth you could never lose, health that would never deteriorate, a job that never left you feeling disappointed, endless french fries that never got cold, etc.), you would certainly feel like you were living “the good life,” right? Of course, there is no such thing as such a perfect, lasting circumstance. Everything the world offers is temporary.

Jesus Christ, though, is so much better. He created us to find our satisfaction in Him because satisfaction in Him is the only satisfaction that will never disappoint. As long as we seek to know, follow, and honor Him, we can have incredible joy and contentment, regardless of our circumstances. More importantly, we can have a right relationship with God that will never end.

DO NOT SETTLE FOR LESS

If you are letting your circumstances determine whether or not “life is good,” you are settling for far less than God has for you. Life is good because God is good. Life is good because Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead to defeat, once and for all, sin and death. Life is good when we know and follow Jesus and help others to know and follow Jesus. Period. Praise the Lord!

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will finish our Who’s Your One? sermon series, preaching from John 1:40-42 on when “Life Is Good.” Christian discipleship is essential, so I will share two keys to the good life – the life found only in and through Jesus.

Do not settle for less. Let Jesus be the source of your satisfaction by surrendering your all to Him and helping others surrender their all to Him. If you have not yet done so, click the picture below for more information.

If you want to have peace now and peace eternal, read and respond to The Story.

What about hell?

Unless referring to hell in a joking and/or derogatory manner, people do not seem to be interested in talking about hell. Of course, I can hardly blame them. Hell is an uncomfortable topic of conversation, especially if the conversation is genuine and serious.

Hell is serious, though, and hell is a topic of conversation that should not be avoided. The Bible talks a lot about hell. Jesus talked a lot about hell. We need to talk about hell. Heaven seems to be a topic we do not mind discussing, but what about hell?

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will preach from Luke 16:19-31 about the difficult reality that “Hell Is Real.” The truth about hell should not only burden us about the importance of the gospel but also about the urgency of the gospel. Over the past few weeks, we have been challenging one another in our church with the question, “Who’s Your One?” When considering those we know and care about (and even those we do not know or care about), the truth of hell should motivate us to love and serve those around us. And, there is no greater way to love and serve others than to tell them how to have a right relationship with God and avoid eternity apart from Him in hell.

For the purpose of preparing for Sunday and, more importantly, for the purpose of self-examination, I want to share a few biblical truths about hell.

1. HELL IS DESERVED.

The Bible tells us, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one” (Romans 3:11-12). Rather, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). And, the punishment for that sin is eternal death (Romans 6:23), meaning eternal damnation in hell, apart from the love and fellowship of God and His followers.

No one in his right mind says he wants to go to hell. All of us, though, deserve hell. All of us. No exceptions because we are all sinners who have disobeyed our holy God.

2. HELL WILL BE CROWDED.

Jesus warned, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).

Hell will be crowded because the way to hell is broad and easy. The way to eternal life is difficult because it involves humility and submission to the Lord Jesus Christ. If hell is deserved because of sin, hell will be crowded because of a refusal to repent and turn to Jesus for salvation.

Ironically (or maybe not), I also plan to start a new 6-week class on Sunday morning called “Membership Matters.” Sadly, the same thing that keeps many people from joining a church is what is leading them to hell – pride. When one pridefully chooses to disobey the Word of God, no matter the reason, he stands condemned, and there is no way a follower of Jesus can obey the clear teachings of the New Testament apart from faithful, active involvement in a local church. Church membership matters, and a refusal to join and serve in a local church is ignorance at best and sinful pride at worst.

Please realize, I am not saying church membership protects anyone from hell. There are plenty of church members from all denominations and from all generations who will likely spend eternity in hell because the church does not save us from sin and death. Church membership does not save us from sin and death. Church service does not save us from sin and death. Church giving does not save us from sin and death.

But, can someone who has been saved from sin and death not desire to belong to a local church? Can someone who has truly repented of his sins and surrendered his life to Jesus Christ willfully disobey the clear teachings on faithful church membership (i.e Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 5 and 12; Galatians 6:10; 1 Thessalonians 5:11; Hebrews 10:24-25; 1 Peter 2:17)? Being a faithful follower of Jesus is not possible apart from being faithful to your local church. There is much more that can and should be said about this, so I will save that for the class or for a conversation with you if you want to discuss this further. Please consider reading the above passages of Scripture, though, and ask yourself how any of those callings on our lives can be fulfilled apart from active local church membership (being a committed part of the “body”).

Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep my commands” (John 14:15). Of course, that includes, but is not limited to, His commands about His church. Picking and choosing which commands to obey is equivalent to picking and choosing a false God. Jesus is Lord. His Word is our ultimate authority. Hell will be crowded because few have chosen and few will choose to surrender to the Lordship of Jesus before it is too late.

Hell is deserved, and hell will be crowded. This is terrible news, but thankfully, there is good news.

3. HELL CAN BE AVOIDED.

While we all deserve hell, God loves us so much that He made a way for us to avoid hell, not simply for the sake of avoiding hell but for the sake of being with Him. If you will simply turn away from your sins and ask Jesus to take over your life, trusting solely in His death and resurrection for your salvation, He will change your life now and give you life eternal. Hell can be avoided, and avoiding hell is only possible in and through Jesus Christ – the Son of God and the Savior of the world.

If you are struggling with whether or not you have truly been made right with God, would you consider reading 1 John? Examine your heart, and ask yourself what you believe and who you are trusting. Consider the longing of your heart and the passion of your life. God created you for Himself, and He calls us to turn to Him. Hell can be avoided, but more importantly, right standing with God can be received in and through His One and Only Son.

If you want to know and follow the Son of God and have eternal life, learn how HERE.

Caring Is Sharing

“Sharing is caring” is a pretty well-known saying that implies when you share with someone, you show that you care about them. You might remember being taught this as a child. I know I do.

On Sunday, Silas had a few friends over after church services, and he had a blast. Like all of us, Silas enjoys spending time with people he likes. He enjoys sharing his time and his toys with them because he cares about them. The rest of our kids are no exception, and I imagine you are not an exception to this rule either.

There is a kind of sharing that is even more important, though – a kind that is even more caring. This kind of sharing comes as a result of caring – caring about Jesus and His commands and caring about others. Sharing which blesses someone not only for a day but for eternity is the most important kind of sharing. Of course, what I mean is the sharing of the Good News. There is no more important thing we can share with others than the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ for our salvation.

Have you trusted your life to Jesus? If so, are you prioritizing the kind of sharing that proves your life belongs to Him?

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching from John 1:45-51 on how, for followers of Jesus, “Caring Is Calling.” If you sincerely care about someone, you will call them to Jesus. You will call them to respond to the gospel. You will want them to experience the hope, joy, and peace you have experienced. Caring is calling.

If this is an ongoing struggle for you, pray for God’s help. Pray for His Spirit to grow your care for Him, for His Word, and for the people around you. To God be the glory!

Levi was a good sport with Silas and his buddies, willingly playing the bad guy they were trying to catch.

To Follow Is to Fish

Can you love something and not talk about it? Perhaps, but rarely. Is it not true that the things we are most passionate about, we talk about? Faith is no exception. In fact, life-changing faith is the epitome of this reality – sincere faith leads to commitment leads to passion leads to boldness.

The Bible does not speak of a faith that does not speak. Rather, disciples of Jesus are all about making more disciples of Jesus. Jesus made this clear in His great commission to His followers (Matthew 28:16-20), which is to be the great commitment of our lives.

From the very beginning of Jesus’ discipleship ministry, disciples making disciples was His emphasis. “Follow Me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fish for people!” (Matthew 4:19). To follow Jesus is to fish for people… to make disciples… to help people know and follow Jesus.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will begin a new 5-week sermon series called Who’s Your One? In this series, which includes some helpful resources from the North American Mission Board, I hope to challenge our church family to have at least one person for whom they are praying and seeking to introduce to Jesus.

If you know and follow Jesus, who are you telling about Him? How is your fishing going? What changes need to be made in your life so that discipleship (growing closer to Jesus and helping others to grow closer to Jesus) is a growing commitment and priority?

You cannot follow what you do not know. If you do not yet know and follow Jesus Christ, would you consider turning to Him today? He loves you. He died on the cross for your sins. And, He rose from the dead to win your eternal victory, if you will simply trust in Him. Learn more by checking out The Story.