This month: 189 - Freedom in Christ
Exploring the Heart of Restoration

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Archives for April, 2020

A few weeks ago, when life changed for all of us, I took the Children’s Ministry online (as many did) and began recording lessons for my kids on Facebook and YouTube. As I walked into the family room that first day, I noticed a children’s Bible on the shelf. I couldn’t remember whose it was but after opening it I saw the handwriting of one of my favorite 1st graders. Her name was written carefully on the intro page. Memories flooded in as I thought of our time together. I had met her through school when she was barely six years old and soon after had connected with her family. Before long, she was part of the kid ministry. 

One Wednesday evening the church bus pulled into the parking lot of her home and parked behind the authorities. Within two days, my family had a new member. For nearly a year, we loved on the sweetest little girl. She had many questions about life and the way hers was going. We sat and talked about Jesus and hope every chance we got. We prayed a lot. There was one prayer I’ll never forget. She wiped tears away as she prayed, not for herself, but for all those who didn’t have anyone to take care of them. I still tear up when I think of her innocence petitioning the King of Kings on behalf of others while her heart broke for her own family. She was kind and wise beyond her years and several times, over that period, showed that she had a firm grasp on true love. I learned a lot from her. At the end of our time together, she went to live with family in another county and we lost touch. I decided to use her Bible in my weekly recordings thinking of her each time I opened it. 

I woke the other morning and grabbed my phone. With a schedule that has come to a screeching halt, I use it sometimes to check what day of the week it is. Before I saw the date, I saw her name and message. Thanks to having a lot of time on her hands this beautiful teenager had started thinking about her time with my family. She thanked us, shared memories, and suggested we rekindle our relationship once this time is over. I doubt my reply conveyed how much I’m looking forward to that.
I don’t know everything God is up to right now but I know that seeing her Bible, using it for my lessons, thinking so much of her, and the sweet note I got isn’t a coincidence. God is working in the lives of all those who love him. He is active anywhere there is love. He is building goodness and hope. He is here and hoping we’ll take the time to notice so send that note or make that call. Say what you need to say. Thank them for the way they have impacted your life. Be a blessing. 

Who knows how long we’ll be staying in or wearing masks? I haven’t a clue on social distancing guidelines for every state or when I’ll get to see my favorite youth group kids again. But I am confident that God is still weaving love into this world in beautiful ways. May we all take the time to notice.

Esther Perel, a therapist and author, in talking about the impact that this season of lockdown is having on couples and their relationships, notes that “some people might come out of this wanting to get married, while others will come out wanting a divorce or a breakup.” That observation may not surprise us as we’ve considered the way the CoronaVirus could potentially affect people in the world today, but the reason she gives for this impact is thought provoking: “disasters generally operate as an accelerator in a relationship.” https://www.thecut.com/2020/04/esther-perels-advice-for-couples-under-lockdown.html

Wow – “disasters generally operate as an accelerator in a relationship.” That’s certainly an important concept for couples to be aware of, but it also may apply to other relationship spheres, as well. For example, how will this event be an accelerator for people in the communal relationship we call “Church”? Will CoronaVirus accelerate people’s journey to faith… or away from it? Will COVID-19 accelerate the growth of churches that were poised to expand their impact and influence? On the flip side of that, will it be the final straw for churches in decline, accelerating those on the verge of closing their doors to go ahead and “move on”?

But, Perel’s idea could actually hold our attention for a different reason in this Post-Easter season. How can this idea help us understand the disaster that was/is… the cross?

In considering Jesus’ death we see that the cross was actually an accelerator for resurrection life. That disaster, in fact, did not bring Jesus’ relationship to life to an untimely end – it did the opposite! And for the powers of darkness, death and the devil, their “victory” at the cross was short-lived, the cross ended up spelling disaster for them and putting a final nail intheir coffin.

So, what will this COVID-19 experience accelerate in us?  For some, it may reveal the darkness and selfishness inside us that, if left untreated, would be disastrous.  If death has a hold on us in the present age, this event should serve as a warning that it is time to hit the breaks and not continue down that path. 

The almost-too-good-to-be-true good news is that God seems especially talented at working good things out of bad situations. God turned the disastor of slavery in Egypt into an Exodus story. God turned the death of the Son into Salvation. God has a long history of working good out of bad situations – somehow accelerating them towards Kingdom of God purposes. So, when we follow the way of Jesus and are filled with his life, the different expressions of the disaster of death and brokenness around us can actually, amazingly, accelerate the good inside us, moving us towards unending, everlasting, overflowing life.

So, if “disasters generally operate as an accelerator in a relationship,” the fact that we live in a Post-Easter world means that God’s resurrection power can be at work in us accelerating new life and new creation… shaping us into who we, as disciples of Jesus, were meant to be.

Alan Howell

I’m working from home. I’ve got a card table set up in the corner of my bedroom. On it are books, my laptop, and some snacks. I’m sitting on an old (very uncomfortable) wooden chair. 

This isn’t where I thought I’d be. 

Two months ago, I had no idea something like COVID-19 was coming along. I was so ingrained in a routine and rhythm of the past eight years of ministry that I just couldn’t see it being any different. Yet, here I am, in my bedroom, ministering from a distance. 

I miss my people. I miss singing together. I miss being together. I miss preaching to real, live people – not a phone via Facebook. I lament the loss of a lot of the aspects of the gathered church. I’m sure you do, too. 

As I’m sitting here, the question is running around Christian circles is “What’s next?” Where do we go from here? I’ve attended no less than four (4) webinars this week on answering that question. That means I’ve spent over six hours listening to leaders talking through the answer to that question. My cup runneth over on information. It is good stuff, but it taxes on you after awhile. 

What I’ve noticed is that the speakers on this are from giant churches. They’re great and charismatic speakers who lead thousands of people every week in giant worship centers. They have a set of challenges for sure, and I value their wisdom, but they think in models, systems, and modes that are much larger than most churches of average sizes will be able to utilize. 

So, what’s next? I think for our flock at Crosspointe, this holy “pause” has created a new opportunity. I think the “What’s next” for us is to prayerfully seek out this one thing:

Who is God asking us to be now?

Who is God asking us to be now? Let’s be honest: we’re not going back to normal anytime soon. We may never get back to the way things used to be. I think as we grieve that, and as we wrestle with that, we’ll find that we’ve awoken in a new land that’s got some of the same components from the old one, but requires a lot of retooling. 

Paul talks about this in Philippians. He’s just got done reminding the church to rejoice in her trials, to watch out for false teaching, and that everything but Christ is rubbish. He writes :

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:12-14, NIV) 

We must press forward. God is calling us to care for and lead people in a whole new way, and we need to praise Him for that! This is a season to serve and it will redefine a lot of the methods we know as Church. What will change? Doctrine won’t. The Bible is the same. Our beliefs are the same. The Spirit is still the same. The Church is still the Bride of Christ. 

When we seek to answer the question, “Who is God asking us to be now?”, we will find out what’s next much more quickly. If we try to jump back into the way things were pre-COVID-19, then we will find ourselves in a place that no longer exists. We’ll find ourselves in a place that rest of the world has run away from. 

In the rush to answer, “Who is God asking us to be now?,” let us be thoughtful. In the rush to get back to “normal,” let us purge all the things we’ve slowly realized aren’t “normal” over the past month and a half. It’s not normal to burn out volunteers. It’s not normal to make people more busy. It’s not normal for us to view attending church as optional. It’s not normal to run the church like a business. It’s not normal to be disconnected from your church family. 

So, what’s next? Let us sit an discern prayerfully who God is asking us to be now. Not who we once were, not who we want to be – who God is asking us to be in a post-pandemic world. As we slowly dip our toes back into this vast ocean that seems so alien now, let us not be naive and think we’ll be back to business as usual. Things are more digital now – but if we’ve learned something, my prayer is that it is this:

We need the gathered Church

We need to be together. We need to sing together. We need to worship and commune with Christ together! Who God is asking us to be will always flow out of the gathered people of God. It is in the gathering that we find life, community, belonging, and purpose. It is in the assembly of God’s people in the local churches that we find who God is asking us to be for our community. That may look different for everyone – that’s okay. 

Trust, however, that the witness of the gathered Church brings life and mission to our purposelessness. It brings hope and peace as we work as agents of reconciliation. It flows through the streets of our cities when the gathered people of God are confident in who they are. When we are confident of who we are and whosewe are, we will be unstoppable. 

So take heart. We will get through this. God will see us through. We will emerge. It will be different. There will be a lot of change. But by God’s grace, we will prevail. 

God loves you, 

Scott

Catch more from Scott at his blog – https://turningovertables.wordpress.com

About a year ago I was looking for good Christian content on YouTube and so much of what I found was lacking. I decided to start my own channel and I had hoped at that time to encourage others to do the same.

Now, we have so many churches putting their content online. I really hope that will continue on some level long after the pandemic has passed because that is putting the gospel where people are looking rather than holding the gospel where people aren’t present (in our church buildings when we were meeting).

If our focus is ourselves, our conversations will focus on whether or not God is pleased with the new arrangement for church online.

If our focus is on others we will be intentional about reaching those who we might not reach otherwise.

Encourage your members to share your church service and message links on social media.

For those of us who preach, remember those hearing the message aren’t 100% our typical crowd. New ears are listening. Don’t miss the opportunity. It can change our focus and presentation to some degree.

Let’s be in prayer that much fruit comes out of this season. We started a prayer chain for the local hospital using signup genius. People shared it on social media and we had a number of new people sign up to pray. This wouldn’t have happened two months ago.

What ways are you seeing churches use this one to connect with those outside your congregation?

In January of 2014, I traveled to Barrow, Alaska [1] . It’s the northernmost point of Alaska, which means the United States cannot go any further than the place where I stood. My travel was far from a vacation. I prefer warm beaches, large urban areas, historical sites, arenas, ballparks, and places with a plethora of restaurants. Barrow is a town of a few thousand people with a few local places to eat, a community center, an indoor hockey rink, a hospital, a school, and a grocery store. Weather in the winter time can reach -60 wind chill, and you can find snow and ice on the ground every month of the year.

I traveled to Barrow both for a sermon series I was preparing to preach and a book I was eager to write. My curiosity got the best of me when I discovered that towns above the Arctic Circle experience 65-75 days every winter without seeing the sun. More interestingly, research shows that there is often a peak season for depression and suicide attempts, and surprisingly, it is not in the period of darkness. It is when the sun comes back. The phrase that launched this entire journey to Barrow to write a book and to preach a series began with this, “The problem is reentry.”[2] One person said this, “You don’t have enough energy to make a plan before then. It’s too much trouble. Once the light starts coming back, there’s more energy, but reasoning is off.”[3]

Now, let me be clear, I found the citizens of Barrow to be extremely hospitable, gracious, welcoming, and kind. I did not find them to be overly depressed, paranoid, or anxious. On the other hand, for over a week, they became teachers, instructors, and story-tellers who reframed for me what it means to navigate seasons of uncertainty and darkness.

This is a game-changer for us as we attempt to navigate the current crisis we are in. Covid-19 has completely knocked us out of rhythm. Every business, organization, and church has had to pivot as we adapt to walk this road. How we reengage and reenter into the fabric of life is going to take focus, care, thoughtfulness, and intentionality.

When we find ourselves traveling paths in which a cloud of uncertainty hovers, we begin to reach for reentry. Everything in us wants to reenter and reengage. We want normality and familiarity. We want what we have lost. We want something new that reflects something of old. One way to put it; we want our lives back.

I’m a seven on the enneagram. Maybe you haven’t been indoctrinated into the world of the enneagram, so I’ll break it down like this. Sevens are adventurous, enthusiastic, and we’re often dreamers. Typically, we are glass half-full people. We avoid pain at all costs. We have the gift of reframing. Here’s what this means in our current crisis, I want to run to reentry. Right now, I want to reimagine what reentry and reengagement will look like, and I want to rally to it. I don’t want to stay in this darkness. I want something fresh.

As a healthy seven, I’m reminded that it’s ok to peak into the future, but I need to live in the now. I know it’s ok to make plans for the future, but I need to seek first what God is up to today. I also need to embrace the reality that how we live into the future isn’t going to be like how life has been in the past. Covid-19 has changed the world. Life moving forward isn’t going to be like it was in the past. Sure, maybe we’ll return to forms of normality in the future, but it’s going to be a while. We can wait to see if familiarity returns, or we can adapt to what it means to remain connected to God and to others. We’ve been dealt a hand that we never asked for, but these are the cards we have to play, so what are we going to do with it?

When executive orders are lifted, and when groups of 10 and more can begin to meet again, I anticipate that reentry is going to be harder than some people think. Especially for churches, we need to prepare for this. I don’t envision there being a Friday when orders are lifted, and on Sunday the church gathers in full force to sing Living Hope and It is Well. Reentry is going to be gradual, in phases, and slow. For some, they will be eager to return to life, and for others they will be extremely cautious.

I’m concerned about a few things as we walk this journey. 

I’m concerned about health and safety. This is why I try to model in my life what the experts have encouraged us to practice: social distancing, safe at home, wash hands, etc.

With that said, I’m just as concerned about a couple of other important things.

I’m concerned that it has taken time for us to live into social distancing and staying away from others. The other day, Kayci and I were outside talking to a few friends from 15 feet away. Our mail carrier walked down the sidewalk, and we all immediately scrambled to give each other space. Social distancing is a muscle we’ve had to learn to exercise. Unfortunately, it’s not a switch that we can turn off and on. When the time is right, we’re going to have to unlearn specific practices in order to properly reengage neighbors and friends.

I’m concerned that fear, unhealthy forms of anxiety, and paranoia have taken hold of hearts and that they are slowly rotting the souls of people. I think everyone needs to read 1-3 articles every day or two to remain informed about what we are facing. Yet, every article and news source scanned after that doesn’t add to knowledge; instead, it slowly robs us of hope, joy, and peace.

Back to my time in Barrow. The healthiest people I encountered while there had these three things in common:

1.     Roots. They had roots that had been firmly established. I’m referring to convictions, a foundation, principles they intentionally chose to build their life on. Multiple times I’ve taught that if you wait until the storm hits to attempt to establish roots, it may be too late. Some people have found that to be true over the past few weeks. Yet, at the same time, we serve a God who can anchor us even while in the storm. Roots need to be remembered, nurtured, and recited.

2.     Rhythm. In the winter time, rhythm is what kept people engaged in relationships and community. You can’t sit on the porch and sip on tea. It’s too cold. You can’t go on walks. Frost bite will set in after 10 minutes. Yet, people with a healthy understanding of rhythm get creative with how they keep themselves connected to the fabric of society.

3.     Don’t go into survival mode. In Barrow, those who went into survival mode in the winter time were the most prone to depression and paranoia. Those who chose to live each day with a purpose claimed to be able to live from a healthy place. In Covid-19, the first couple of weeks, many of us went into survival mode. Yet, the more we have lived through this, the more we see that there are some aspects of life that will take time to be restored. There has been a lot of loss. Loss of life, loss of jobs, loss of security, loss of income, loss of health, loss of relational connection, loss of freedoms. I’ve encouraged our leaders at Sycamore View multiple times to not go into survival mode. This isn’t a race to see how long we can tread water. Instead, let’s embrace each week as an opportunity to dream with God and to engage in mission.

As much as we have had to adapt and make changes, there are a few important truths we can bank on: God’s heart is still beating, the mission of God keeps going, the gospel of Jesus doesn’t need to be rewritten, God is on the move, and the church (God’s people) are invited to be a part of it.

If we care about what kind of people we’re going to be on the other side of this, we must care deeply about what kind of people we are becoming each day we travel through this. We aren’t going to be peaceful, courageous, and healthy on the other side of Covid-19 if we aren’t daily choosing to press into God in ways each day that keep us rooted in peace, courage, and hope.

We can do this.

We can navigate this journey with God.

God is committed to navigating this journey with us.

Let’s move at God’s pace.

Keep in step with the Spirit.

The mission of God goes on, and we have a role to play.

Reentry matters. Even if it is months down the road, let’s begin preparing for reengagement now.


[1] Barrow changed names since Josh’s visit. It is now called Utqiagvik

[2] Associated Press, “In Alaska, Darkness and Depression Descend,” New York Times, December 18, 2005.

[3] Ibid.

As a congregation, we have been following the Narrative Lectionary this year.  We’ve been going through Mark’s Gospel. One of the striking things about this fast-paced narrative is how so many people misunderstood who Jesus was. I suppose we’re not so different today.

Throughout Mark’s gospel account, we see the disciples chiding Jesus to “do more” or to “heal more.” My mind wanders to the eighth chapter of Mark. So far, Jesus has cast out demons, healed lepers, raised a little girl from the dead, healed a woman with a bleeding disorder, exorcized Legion, and taught some amazing things – with authority! Jesus then feeds thousands, warns about the Scribes and Pharisees and Herod, then heals a blind man. His ministry is really picking up steam! 

Then we come to Mark’s account of Peter’s confession.  

“27 Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?” 28 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”30 Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him” (Mark 8:27-30, NIV) 

It seems we’re finally getting somewhere.  The disciples, or at least Peter, are finally catching on! In this moment I imagine Jesus seeing this breakthrough occurring. He then tells them the real plan – what He came to do – and His expectations are, in a way, dashed on the little rock named Peter.

31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.” (Mark 8:31-32, NIV) 

Don’t miss what’s happened. Peter confesses Jesus as “Messiah.” Jesus refers to Himself as “Son of Man.” The two are interchangeable to us but carry vastly different meanings to the Jewish world. The Messiah would come in the spirit of David, it was believed and be more a political/military hero-king who would throw off the oppression of Rome and restore Israel to her golden-age status. He would reign on David’s throne and usher in a time of peace and restoration to the Jewish Nation.

The Son of Man (which Jesus always calls Himself in Mark), however, carried no such connotations. It comes from the seventh chapter of Daniel where we read:

13 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Dan. 7:13-14, NIV) 

There was no political fanfare, or militaristic pride in this moniker. Instead, the Son of Man is imbued with the authority, glory, and sovereign power of the Ancient of Days. All people worshiped Him in every language. His kingdom will be one that lasts forever. It is a beautiful vision. It is not a vision that Peter, and maybe even us, are ready to embrace. 

Jesus says the Son of Man must suffer and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again (Mark 8:31). At this, Peter has had enough. He rebukes Jesus. Yet, Jesus retorts with a stronger rebuke:

33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” (Mark 8:33, NIV) 

Herein, we find that we might have a little more in common with Peter than we thought. If I’m honest, I want – I need a conquering hero right about now. I want a Messiah to clean house of the Coronavirus and the tragedy we’re all living in. I want a military/economic powerhouse to lead the charge right about now. We want the happy ending. Yet, that’s not what we get.  

The back half of Isaiah’s prophecy reveals something seemingly Inconceivable about the Messiah. That He will be a suffering servant. It defies all expectations of how the Anointed One will rule and administer justice throughout this coming kingdom.

In Isaiah we read:

See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. 14 Just as there were many who were appalled at him— his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and his form marred beyond human likeness— 15 so he will sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand. (Is. 52:13-15, NIV)

And of course, in the next chapter:

4 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him,and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Is. 53:4-6, NIV) 

In these chapters of Isaiah, as well as other allusions by other prophets, we find the suffering servant. My! What a difference from the grandiose visions and political hopes placed on the Anointed One. But don’t miss the point. God will use Jesus to show Peter (and us) something. That co-suffering love turns the power systems of this world on their heads and philosophically shifts everything we thought we knew about power upside-down.

This idea of co-suffering love is found on most pages of the New Testament. Jesus promises that we, just like Him, will suffer for the sake of the Kingdom. In Mark’s gospel, after Jesus’ chat with the rich man in chapter ten, the disciples grapple with just who can be saved, if the rich can’t.  Peter, as usual, chimes in reminding Jesus of how much they’ve given up following Him.  Notice what is sprinkled in Jesus’ promised reward:

29 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (Mark 10:29-31, NIV) 

See what he said? That along with all the happy stuff, part of the reward is persecutions (v 30.) How I wish this were a theme that was only mentioned once or twice. This article would be five or six times longer if I put down every scripture in the New Testament that had to do with the inextricable connection between being a disciple and suffering. 

God never promises us an easy road. He never says that we won’t suffer or fall ill or experience tragedy. Instead, He promises:

33 “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, NIV) 

Paul, a man all too familiar with suffering, writes this:

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Rom. 5:1-5, NIV)

The Apostles teach us, just as they were taught by Christ, to rejoice in suffering.  No where is this more apparent than when Peter writes:

12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. (1 Pet. 4:12-14, NIV) 

We shouldn’t be surprised when suffering comes. It’s part of the deal.  You choose to follow Jesus; you lose your life to save it. You pick up your cross daily. You reject the ways of this world and embrace a cross of your own in order to glorify your Lord, Jesus Christ. You need not be taken aback by trials and troubles.  Instead, realize they are producing in you a work of God that gets you ready for the great glory that is to be revealed: the full resurrection of Creation and inauguration of the Kingdom of God. 

As James writes:

2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. (James 1:2-3, NIV) 

If our Lord, the Creator of the Universe, was not exempt from suffering, how can we expect to be?  Instead, let us take up our crosses, embrace with love those going through fiery trials, and help people realize hope is real.  Let us stop crying, “Why?” and instead walk tall with hearts ablaze by the Spirit of God who is leading us to green pastures. 

Let us realize that one day, the sufferings of the human condition and the tragedy of this world will be swallowed up and we, like our suffering servant Messiah, will be resurrected bodily into a place where God will wipe away our tears Himself. It was all made possible on the wonderful promises of Jesus and His suffering on the Cross. It all came to fruition at His resurrection. And it all was because the servant was willing to suffer. May we be willing to do the same for His name’s sake.

The COVID-19 pandemic is an ongoing disaster that is changing our lives and our churches. It is shaping and shifting ministries and practices in substantial ways. We can see what is happening before our eyes, but what remains unknown is what church life will look like when this is our history, not our present. Much of our most effective and essential ministry habits are rendered ineffective because one of our greatest needs is to get close to people. People are dying, communities are hurting, businesses are being wiped out, churches will close, ministers will lose their jobs, and life is changing. Two realities emerge. One, the need to spread the gospel remains our high priority. Two, we are hard-pressed to do that in the disaster that surrounds our current circumstances.

I know a pandemic is a disaster, technically, but whenever that word is used, I always think of weather related disasters: tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes. We have friends still putting their lives back together in Tennessee, and other places, after recent tornadoes. I can’t imagine being in that situation while a pandemic spreads across the country. I’ve lived through some personal disasters, none more well known than a hurricane called Katrina. We lived on the Mississippi Gulf Coast during that time, and it was an experience I’ll never forget. 

The disciples of Jesus were not always moved to action in seasons of disaster. When 5,000 people were experiencing food insecurity, their best idea was to send them home. When an intense storm was about to dump them in Galilee, they were doing anything except believing that someone in their boat had a name that the wind and waves knew. On the other hand, when ten men with a contagion ran up to Jesus begging to be healed, he healed them all without so much as a flinch. The Gospels record him touching lepers, wandering into areas where the infirm were laying around waiting for water to stir so they could be healed, and willing to encounter the blistered bloody demon infested without so much as a hazmat suit or a bottle of hand sanitizer. 

I agree, it’s not the same as dealing with a pandemic, but in the spirit of the Gospels, Jesus tends to point us toward the diseased, hurting, and those in despair. Even when our natural inclination is to run away. I’ll admit that when Hurricane Katrina flooded our little town of Pascagoula, I didn’t think we could recover. I didn’t see any way of undoing the damage. But then the first truckload of supplies came to town. We didn’t ask; they just showed up. People came with willing hands and hearts, and the spark of hope came with them. I know there are many of us who are disciples of Jesus who would like to close our doors in this pandemic and come out when the danger is clear (will it ever be?). But the Jesus in us just won’t let that be our plan of action.

Two things are at work here. We are keeping ourselves safe – for the sake of our families, neighbors, and loved ones. We are seeking to reach out – for the sake of our community and our Lord. I believe I see the church shining, mostly, in this pandemic. 

Our online presence has increased exponentially. One meme suggested that in one moment all ministers became televangelists! We are streaming sermons, worship times, devotionals, and even just momentary check-ins. The availability of online messaging is just amazing. Most of it I have seen is positive, encouraging, and hopeful. 

Our efforts to connect may have become digital but are nonetheless heartfelt. Many churches have plans in place so that every member is called during the course of a week. Elders are talking to people they have never had a personal conversation with. Ministers are giving encouraging words to the members they normally only see on Sundays. Some churches are encouraging members to call the people they usually sit next to when able to go to worship. There is a consciousness of those who are not connected on social media. 

Our prayer and devotional lives are aflame due to having more time and less interruption. Prayer groups are forming. Bible studies and small groups are flourishing on platforms like Zoom. When the structures around us crumble, we realize that our only stability is the Chief Cornerstone, Jesus.

Our conversations are alive with brainstorming. Can we deliver meals? Should we drive up to people’s homes and wave and have brief conversations across the yard? Is there a way we can serve healthcare workers on the frontline with food delivery? Can we make masks and share them with people in the community who do not have access to them? How can we help our local businesses stay afloat in this economic disaster? Do we have any members of our church who lost their job who might need some help? These are the conversations of which I am aware. Every church will have to determine its own ability and strength to serve in such a time as this. 

I have three suggestions for disciples in disasters.

First, take care of yourself and your family. It is sometimes easier to take on someone else’s burden than to face your own burden. We have to be honest with ourselves. We are also carrying some weight in this disaster. It might be that we have financial losses, deaths, or career challenges to deal with. Our spouses are dealing with this, just as we are. We may be exhausted or even overwhelmed.  If so, we can hardly help someone else. If you need time to get your life in order, take it. You will be much more able to help another person when you resolve your own issues.

Second, listen. After Katrina, our church (Central Church of Christ in Pascagoula, MS) had supplies to share with the community. Some of them came through disaster relief agencies and some through individuals. So we had people coming to our building all day long. There was a brief form to fill out, and I often sat at a table with a hurting soul from the community to help them with that form. Almost all of them wanted the same thing. They felt a need to tell their stories. With tears in their eyes, they would say, “We lost everything.” I would say, “We all did.” And there was a connection. We often cried and prayed together. I realized then that I was not able to fix their problems, but I could hear them and care for them. If there are hundreds of thousands of deaths from COVID-19, then there are hundreds of thousands of hurting families and friends. What a gift you can give, if you can just listen.

Third, use your gifts. I’m amazed at some of the ways disciples have already thought of serving. Even with the civil laws in place that restrict us pretty significantly, the Spirit has gifted us to serve in certain ways. Asking the Spirit to reveal ways to serve using the gifts He has given you would be an excellent prayer. We can fall into the trap of seeing something someone else is doing and trying to replicate their practice. Sometimes that works out, sometimes that leaves us frustrated. 

Galatians 5:25 AMP says, “If we [claim to] live by the [Holy] Spirit, we must also walk by the Spirit [with personal integrity, godly character, and moral courage—our conduct empowered by the Holy Spirit].” Conduct empowered by the Spirit will lead disciples to serve and love in times of disaster.

John Dobbs

Forsythe Church of Christ

Monroe, LA


​“It is finished.” They’re the last three words of Jesus before he takes his final dying breath on the cross. I’ve read them before, as I’m sure many of you have too, which creates a challenge in reading John’s account of Jesus’s passion. 

​Familiarity breeds complacency, so we’re told. And so it becomes easy to read this passage of scripture from the Gospel of John and not be shocked by these words of Jesus. But let’s try for a moment pretending as though we are one of the bystanders watching as Jesus slowly dies hanging on this Roman cross.

​Here we stand, witnessing a man already bloodied and bruised from the beatings he has received. A sign above him, with the inscription in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek, reads “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Yet the only crown this man on the cross has adorned was one made of thorns, bashed into his skull. And now the guards have taken his clothes; they’re casting lots to see who gets them as though his clothes are a prize. 

​Then after mumbling a few words to some other bystanders, he says “It is finished.”

​It’s almost inconceivable. Crucified on a Roman cross, now this man heralded as King of the Jews is a spectacle of humiliation and a symbol of Roman power. And his last words are “It is finished.”

​What could Jesus possibly be talking about? The obvious answer seems to be that he’s done fighting and now ready to die, that he’s accepting his fate. But that’s rather obvious even if he says nothing. After all, he’s already nailed to this cross and his fate seems sealed. There isn’t any fight left even if he still wanted to fight.

​But step back for a moment. We know what the cross symbolizes: Power. The cross is Rome’s authoritarian statement of rule and control but it is exactly what neither Pilate nor the Jewish authorities have. 

​What little control the Jewish authorities had over the Jewish people, they’ve lost. Jesus  is the one who has amassed a following. So their only recourse is to have Jesus killed. Of course, seemingly powerless to do so themselves, they can only demand, shouting “Crucify him! Crucify him!” to pressure Pilate into having Jesus put to death. 

​Pilate thinks he has the power and authority but in reality, he’s afraid. The last thing he needs is an uprising on—of all Jewish holidays—the Passover. So Pilate tries reasoning with Jesus, explaining how he has authority to release him or crucify him. But Jesus only responds saying, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above…”

​Now Pilate is in a jam. He wants to release Jesus and has the authority to do so but his fear of losing what little control he has makes for a conundrum. Though for different reasons, that fear is the same existential crisis that consumes the Jewish authorities. Listen to them as they shout again, “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!”

​Authoritarians love to believe they’re in control. History is full of such examples, including Pilate and the Jewish authorities. They believe they’re in charge but what really has control over them is the existential threat to their own fickle power. 

​The story brings to mind Hans Christian Anderson’s tale The Emperor Has No Clothes. Both Pilate and the Jewish authorities think they are in control but fear actually has control of them. Fear is the impetus for conspiring to crucify Jesus. It’s the grand illusion here. They think they have power but instead they operate under the power of fear. Fear has control of them. They’re like an escaped inmate from prison who thinks he’s free. But he’s really still bound by the fear of being captured again and so everything he does is determined by the fear of going back to prison.

​It’s the tyranny of fear that has the power over everyone in this story, except for Jesus.

​Jesus has already told Pilate that the only power he has is given to him from above. Jesus knows that it’s his Heavenly Father who’s in charge. God has the power here. So Jesus says nothing more to Pilate, not a word of rebuttal to the accusations made against him. Instead, having been turned over for crucifixion, Jesus carries his own cross.

​So here at the place called Golgotha we stand, watching as the guards crucify Jesus with two other insurrectionists beside him. Just as the accusations made against him claimed, Jesus is crucified as the King of the Jews. He says very few words but what does happen, the casting of lots over his cloths and the drink of wine from a sponge, fulfills scripture (cf. Ps 22:18; 69:21).

​Jesus knows “that all was now finished.” So after taking a drink from the sponge, he says “It is finished.” Everything the Father sent the Son to do was finished — “completed” (CEB) and thus fulfilled. Jesus once said, “When I am lifted up from the earth, [I] will draw all people to myself” (12:32). And now, both Pilate and the Jewish authorities have played right into his hands. What Pilate and the Jewish authorities saw as the most expedient action to assuage their fears, Jesus claimed as the victory.

​That’s the irony of the cross and the crucified Christ. What Pilate and the Jewish authorities see as their win, is God’s plan. It’s victory. Beginning with Abraham, God made a promise to bless all nations. And now God has sent Jesus, fulfilling his promise. The day of salvation the prophets of Israel spoke of is being inaugurated there upon the cross by Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.

​The irony though is that in the midst of utter darkness, in the shroud of evil and death, God is at work. It’s called eternal life. Not in the sense of pie in the sky, sweet bye and bye, come get our ticket to heaven so that we can bide our time until we can finally escape the world. No, that’s not the eternal life that Jesus has embodied in his own life. 

​Yes, we believe that Jesus has not only died on the cross but has also been raised from death and therefore, just as he has promised, we believe he will come again. So we rightfully believe we will live in eternity with him in the new heaven and new earth (cf. 2 Pet 3:13; Rev 21:1). But the eternal life Jesus makes possible is an abundant life we can live right now (cf. Jn 10:10). It’s a life of faith rather than fear, a life animated by the Spirit of God rather than the tyranny of fear. So by faith we know that even in the midst of what seems like utter darkness, God is present. Even in what seems like a shroud of evil and death, God is leading us from death to resurrection in the Crucified Christ whom God has raised from death.

​That’s a message we desperately need to hear again these days. I recently read an article on CNN titled Coronavirus Preys on What Terrifies Us: Dying Alone. The author Daniel Burke wrote how “As the coronavirus stalks victims around the world, one of its scariest aspects is how it seems to feed on our deepest fears and prey on our primal instincts, like the impulse to be close to people we love when they are suffering and near death. …In painful irony, the very thing we need in moments of fear and anxiety could also kill us.”

​People are suffering, people are scared, and sadly, some are dying. But we cannot give into fear or any of the pernicious behaviors that fear breeds, because we are not left without hope. Instead we must live in the awareness of our faith. It’s to live knowing that in the midst of suffering and uncertainty, God is still the one who came in the person of Jesus, turning the cross into victory, so that we may carry forth living by faith this eternal life in abundance.

May the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and the love of our God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all! (cf. 2 Cor 13:13).

By Sandra Henderson

Let’s talk Easter. April 12 is Easter Sunday and as things stand today, we will all continue in a “shelter in place” status. So, what does this mean?

Well, it means the things we traditionally do together, as a gathered group, will not occur this year.

No churches hosting Easter egg hunts for the tots. No larger than usual church gatherings.

No big choirs or special solos or children’s productions to grace said larger than usual church gatherings.

No hosting of the big Easter feast as family and friends gather after church.

Baby’s first Easter this year will look different than probably any other Easter that baby experiences.

I must admit, I’ve had a few moments of genuine grief and disappointment as we’ve watched this whole thing play out. We desire to be obedient and careful as we work hard to stay away from people and try to stop the spread of this virus. But c’mon . . . it’s Easter!

I love to see the adorable littles dressed in new shiny clothes. I love to plan a service that encourages the church while exalting the name of the Risen Lord.  I love cooking a feast and planning a gathering that includes MANY friends and family.

So, for just a bit of time, I was sad. It just can’t happen that way this year and that makes me sad. Period. And that’s okay.

But then today, my heart changed. I was a tiny bit excited and maybe even embarrassed to have been grieving over new clothes and Easter baskets and glorious gatherings with friends and family.

Oh people…Easter is still coming. Whether we are in pajamas watching an online church service, cooking a ham for our little families, or hiding Easter eggs for our children without all the fanfare . . . Easter Is Coming.

It may not look the same, but the meaning has lost none of its power. It may not feel like Easters we are accustomed to, but the sweetness of the resurrection of Jesus is exactly the same. We may not do the same things on this coming Easter that we have done on other Easter Sundays, but the fact remains that Jesus Christ willingly and obediently died by crucifixion and on the third day rose in absolute power over sin and death remains the same.

Oh people, Easter is coming. Ready your hearts. There is work to be done and it has nothing to do with new clothes or Easter Egg hunts or big parties. We will remember that he is ALIVE!

——————–
Sandra Henderson is a Fresno native. She has served as the worship minister for the College Church of Christ in Fresno since 2003. Sandra and her husband Lex have two grown children. She has served on the board of Zoe and is active in a variety of ministerial forums.

April has a new theme. We were going to focus on Isaiah but we have some really needed conversations ahead we need to engage in.

We are in a rough season. That means new challenges and new opportunities. What does it look like to be a disciple of Jesus in the COVID19 pandemic? How do we show the love of Jesus from 6 feet away or even 6 miles away? In the month of April we will be exploring what it looks like to live the Jesus-life in the midst of chaotic and stressful times. Christianity thrives in hard times, I believe because in these times we come closer to understanding our full reliance on God. We stop relying on ourselves. That is when we are primed for growth…hard times. Stressful times. But also times of growth: personal spiritual growth and kingdom outreach growth. Let’s share stories and ideas of how we can let our lights shine in these unusual moments.