This month: 184 - Grace and truth
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Archives for 175 – Following Christ Through Difficult Times

Got a Minute?

I know of a preacher who is doing a video series with the title Got a Minute?

I love that idea and while I am not going to enter his territory with a video series of my own, I may very well share some writing with you under that guise in the future as well as today.

So, Got a Minute? I hope you do!

One of my favorite contrasts in scripture is found in Galatians 5. In verses 19-21, Paul follows up a section about walking by the Spirit by enumerating a short list of ugly behaviors/ attitudes he calls the work of the flesh. And ugly they are!

But the contrast toward those ill-formed activities is walking by the Spirit—exhibiting the Fruit found therein. We read about that in verses 22-23:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The law is not against such things.” (CSB17)

Unfortunately, a theological pet peeve of mine is referring to these characteristics as the fruits of the Spirit as if there were many. But, if I understand correctly, all of these attributes work together to be the fruit of a Spirit-filled, Spirit-led walk of faith.

Honestly, these characteristics are challenging to me—and maybe because I struggle too much with some of the things referred to as the works of the flesh. Yes, God is still working on me.

Occasionally, the topic of new elders will come up and we are quick to look at what Paul told Timothy and Titus. But from my perspective, the first qualities of life we ought to consider or the first question we ought to ask is does this person display the fruit of the Spirit? And if we were to really get serious, that ought to be the first question of qualification for any child of God in any capacity.

While I cannot remember where I heard it, I have to agree with the guy that said, “if flexibility and adaptability are not a part of the Fruit of the Spirit, they ought to be!”

Flexibility and adaptability.

Think about those terms.

Now think about them through the lens of patience and self-control… Honestly? I think you can easily make a case for their inclusion or at least being a way to define how patience and self-control can be seen.

So, why am I talking about flexibility and adaptability? Simply because we are living in very strange times—and these strange times mean different ways of doing things. These strange times mean nothing is really normal. These strange times mean we may have to see, do, and accept differences we are not accustomed to. And, these strange times most likely mean we cannot control everything as we might like.

Patience.

Self-control.

Flexibility.

Adaptability.

At work.

In your family.

And even with church, these strange days call for us to model Christ-like behavior, to live the Fruit of God’s Spirit, and to exercise patience and self-control.

Got a minute?

Be flexible.

Be adaptable.

And in so doing, you may be an instrument of peace in a chaotic world—and hey, wouldn’t you know, being peaceable is also a mark of the Spirit’s fruit!

Blessings to you!

Les Ferguson, Jr.

Are you looking for a way to serve others? Without leaving your home? I just found out that Let’s Start Talking has 50 people on a waitlist to learn English through reading the gospels.

I told them I would get the word out so I am putting this in front of you to ask if you would pray and ask God if this is something you should do. If you feel called to this you can find out more at this link to sign up as a Worker – https://lst.org/lst-program/virtual/

I love and appreciate each one of you. We do a lot of talking here. Let’s move to action!

What would Jesus do if he were here today? That is hard to answer in one sense because Jesus is at the right hand of God. But in another sense it can be very easy to answer because Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to empower the people of God in the absence of Jesus. We are His hands and feet. The church, in a sense, is the incarnate Christ…as, Paul would write in Galatians, Christ is formed in us.

We can see what Jesus would do if He were here because in one real sense He is. He is here because we are here. This is not to divinize ourselves. But in a practical sense all you have to do is watch Spirit-indwelt people and you will see what Jesus would do by the work of those the Spirit is empowering to minister to do “Greater things than these” as Jesus said we would do.

I see Jesus singing in hospital parking lots. I see Jesus writing encouraging notes. I see Jesus in the preachers learning tech to get their sermons online and struggling through it every week. I see Jesus in calling all the members of the church. I see Jesus sitting on the front porch with an elderly member (10 feet apart) because they are lonely as their spouse died in the last few years.

I see Jesus in many places right now…but you know where I don’t see Him right now? In the church building. Not yet…not yet…not until we meet again…and I hope and pray we bring these “Jesus sightings” back into that room with us so that things will never be the same again and we don’t go back to things as they were as if nothing happened.

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

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.

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?

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

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