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.

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.

What does faith cause?

There are certainly many answers to that question, as faith causes many things to happen (or not happen). Sincere faith, especially, leads to corresponding attitudes and actions.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be continuing through our Who’s Your One? sermon series, taking a look at Luke 5:17-26 and talking about how “Believing Is Receiving.”

As I prepare for that message, I would like to challenge you to consider the faith of the men in that story – the man Jesus forgave and healed and the man’s friends, who lowered him down to Jesus from a roof. Jesus saw their faith (verse 20), and as a result, he both forgave the paralyzed man of his sins and also healed the man.

From that story, I believe we can learn a couple of important lessons about sincere faith in Jesus Christ.

1. FAITH LEADS TO SEEKING JESUS.

Why were the men in that story so persistent that “they went up on the roof and lowered him on the mat through the roof tiles into the middle of the crowd before Jesus” (Luke 5:19)? That is a lot of effort. That is persistence in the midst of great obstacles!

These men and their paralyzed friend obviously had faith. They believed there was something special about this Jesus, and so He was worth their effort and persistence. Their faith led to them seeking Jesus.

What about your faith? Are you seeking to get closer to Jesus? Sincere faith leads to seeking Jesus.

2. FAITH LEADS TO LOVING OTHERS.

Today is Valentine’s Day, so we will probably hear a lot about love this weekend. What kind of love, though? The Bible tells us that “love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7). In fact, we cannot know love apart from God. “We love because God first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Furthermore, “God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!” (Romans 5:8).

The one with faith in Jesus has love for God and love for others. There are no exceptions to this. Again, see 1 John 4:7-21. I am not saying this to take away from Valentine’s Day and the romantic love between a husband and his wife, as that is certainly included in the Word of God. Rather, I am challenging you to consider how your faith impacts your love. Your love says a lot about your faith.

The men in the story in Luke 5:17-26 cared enough about their friend to go to great lengths to do what? Well, they wanted to get their friend to Jesus! Is there a better way for us to love others than to bring them to Jesus?

Genuine faith leads to seeking Jesus and loving others. Is there proof of genuine faith in your life? Do you love others enough to do whatever you can to bring them to Jesus?

Of course, before you can truly seek Jesus and love others in any lasting way, you must come to know Him. The good news is that you do not have to figure that out on your own either. You simply have to BELIEVE that Jesus died on the cross for your sins and rose again for your salvation, turning from your sins and trusting in HIM. If you want to learn more about this good news, check out The Story.

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.

Read the Word

Joshua read aloud all the words of the law – the blessings as well as the curses – according to all that is written in the book of the law” (Joshua 8:34).

If you read the end of Joshua 8, you will notice that Joshua was honoring God with an altar after a great victory God had given His people. Joshua was following God’s instructions, and then read God’s instructions – God’s Word – to all the people of Israel. He read all of it to them – “the blessings as well as the curses.”

How can we honor God like Joshua did and help others to do the same? By reading His Word, declaring His Word to others, and following His Word. Like Jesus said, we prove ourselves to be disciples by going and making disciples and baptizing them and teaching them to observe everything He has commanded us (Matthew 28:18-20). Oh, and He promises to be with His disciples “always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20b).

Do you know the Word? Are you reading the Word? Are you obeying the Word – all of it? With all of the incredible resources available to us in the English language (and in so many other languages), we have no excuse not to engage God daily through His Word.

Read the Word and pray for God’s help to obey.

If you have no desire to read God’s Word, perhaps you have not yet received God’s rescue from sin and death through His One and Only Son. Would you consider the Story and turn to Jesus today?