Sunday Guidelines

Been thinking about all the preparations that have been made and are currently being made as churches open their doors to meet again.

Our first Sunday to be “shut-down” was March 22. (The Church was never closed; only the building was empty.) We have been using Zoom for Sunday morning, prayer meetings, and small group meetings. This past Sunday, just the leadership met in the auditorium while the service was Zoomed to everyone else. The purpose for our in-house meeting was to get a first-hand view of the guidelines we need in to have in place for opening our doors this Sunday.

On my way to church, I said to my wife, “Churches are making a lot of plans and preparations for next Sunday to protect folks from the virus. I wonder, how much planning and preparation goes on personally in the heart of man to be protected from the old sin nature so that our worship will be in spirit and in truth (John 4:24)?”

May I offer some suggested guidelines, not in a legalistic fashion, but simply to honor God and help us be ready to gather in His presence?

  1. Have the whole family pray together on Saturday night in heart preparation for gathering on Sunday.
  2. Have clothes and breakfast already planned out and prepared on Saturday night to lessen the stress of Sunday morning.
  3. Get to bed at a decent hour so you are not so tired on Sunday morning.
  4. Be prepared for opposition from the flesh and the devil on Sunday morning. Don’t be surprised. You are in a battle.
  5. Have a season of prayer as a family and listen to worship music on the way to church.
  6. Before you exit your vehicle in the church parking lot, pray and ask the Lord what pew you should sit in so you will be near the person God wants you to minister to that morning (even six-feet apart).
  7. Maybe take a different route to church to add some freshness to the journey.
  8. The trip to and from church should be a blessed, happy time of joy and singing and sharing because you are born again, and you were made to praise the Lord!

We have guidelines to protect from the virus. May we with a right heart follow some “guidelines” to protect us from ourselves. After all, this Sunday’s worship is not about us but about loving God and loving our neighbor (Matthew 22:37-39)!

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD!” (Psalm 122:1)

Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise! Selah (Psalm 84:4)

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. (Colossians 3:16-17)

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25)

Rejoicing or Railing?

The default setting of my sinful, depraved heart is to be critical and persistently complaining (railing). There is so much about the way life has been going in every direction due to this coronavirus that it breeds such contempt, gripping, anger, and fear. Even having a mask over my mouth doesn’t stop the verbal expression of what’s in my heart.

The greatest moment of my life was when as a five year old the Holy Spirit revealed to me my need of Christ. He also gave me the faith and the power to believe on His name (John 1:14; Romans 3:23; 6:23; 10:9-13; Titus 3:5; 2 Peter 1:3-4). Since then, I can’t explain it but Scripture verifies it, Christ and the Holy Spirit have been dwelling within me (John 16:15-25; Romans 8:9; 1 Corinthians 6:19; 12:12-14; Colossians 1:27).

One of the rich blessings of this arrangement is that I cannot live the Christian life on my own(John 15:5). Jesus Christ is the Christian life (John 14:6) and at the point of salvation, I am brought into union with Christ, identified in Christ, and live life participating with Christ (John 15:1-9; Romans 6:1-14).

So what does all of this have to do with rejoicing in the midst of the coronavirus and its subsequent effects. Well, since the Holy Spirit has taken up residence in my life, I don’t have to follow the dictates of my heart. Moment-by-moment, I have the blessing of participating with Christ in His life empowered by the Spirit (Romans 8; 12:1-2; Philippians 3:10) as I surrender to His good and gracious authority in my life.

What will that look like? But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do (practice) such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (Galatians 5:16-26)

Note the second word of the complete fruit of the Spirit—joy. No matter what is happening around me in this world or the circumstances of life, the Holy Spirit produces joy when I am surrendered to Him (Ephesians 5:15-21). The Spirit, not me, magnifies Christ through me (John 16:14-15).

I am speaking to my own heart here, but I must say that this world needs to see more joy-filled believers than cranky, whining, pessimistic, critical, gossiping, complaining, gripping Christians! Soak your soul in Romans 8:28-39. Sink your taproots into 2 Corinthians 2:14-16. Let Christ be seen in and through us and not us!! Folks, the tomb in empty! The back of the Book says “We win!” God will fulfill His plan to the very end (Revelation 19-22)!

Furthermore, Romans 8:21-29 has not be erased from the Word of God! How powerful are Christ’s words just hours before being crucified, I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart (be of good cheer); I have overcome the world (John 16:33).

Last night, after our small group meeting, I sat in our porch swing and found the following song, I Rest My Case At the Cross. As I listened, my heart swelled, tears started down my cheek, and as we say in the South, “I just about had a shoutin’ fit!” (Now it won’t hurt you to have one of those. Trust me. Better yet, read the Psalms. Or ask Paul and Silas in the jail, Acts 16.)

1 Thessalonians 5:16-19 reminds us, Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit.

Rejoice! Pray (Praise and supplication)! Give thanks! And surrender moment-by-moment to the magnification of Christ in and through you as you participate in His life!! It’s all a supernatural work of the Spirit!!

Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be tenderhearted, be courteous (humble): 9 Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing. 10 For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile (1 Peter 3:8-10).

The “New Normal”

“Groovy, Man!”

“You got mail!”

“Good night, John Boy”

“I know nothing!”

“Nip it in the bud!”

“My bad!”

“I’m good!”

Adulting

Crazy busy.

These and hundreds more are words and phrases that crop up each year to describe some aspect of life, culture, thought, action, etc. Today’s new word/catchphrase is, “the new normal.” Seems like everywhere I go, I hear people talking about it.

What is the “new normal”? Everyone would definitely have their very own definition due to COVID-19 and quarantine. Life has changed so much. Indeed, there are aspects of the pandemic shut-down that have been positive, enriching, enlightening, and life-changing. On the other hand, in many ways it has been difficult. So most likely, the “new normal” would be a mixture of life as it was before the coronavirus with a few work, family, recreational, and/or spiritual changes thrown in.

Truly though, what is the “new normal”? Well, just as in all of life, we need to search the Scriptures and see what the Creator of life has to say. No matter the scenario, question, or circumstance of life, you always begin with God, Jehovah Elohim (Genesis 1:1). He is the Starting Point, the Supply, the Substance, the Sustainer, and the true Success of all life, here and for eternity.

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4). This chapter in Romans speaks of our union, identification, and participation with Christ Who has redeemed us from our lost, sinful, helpless, guilty, hell-bound condition (Romans 3). Because we are born in sin (Psalm 51:5; Romans 3:23) and with an old sin nature (Romans 6), we are spiritually dead, following the course of this world and of Satan (Ephesians 2:1-3).

The greatest crisis of my life is how to reverse this condition. Hallelujah for the love of God (John 3:16), the substitutionary death of Christ on the cross (2 Corinthians 5:21; Isaiah 53:5; 1 Peter 3:18) and His resurrection from the grave (Matthew 28:1-6; Romans 4:25; 1 Corinthians 15) and the regenerative, convicting work of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8-14; Titus 3:5) that takes me from a life dominated by the old sin nature, worldly philosophy and Satan, and gives me Christ’s life in exchange for mine! That is newness of life (Romans 6:4)!!

This newness of life is Christ living His life in me and out of me (Galatians 2:20; Colossians 1:27) from the very moment of personal salvation (Romans 10:9, 13) received from Christ by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, I am now alive to God (Romans 6:1-14). This newness of life is continually fresh and refreshing as it is the life (zoe) of God!

My friends, that is truly, genuinely, and for all eternity “the new normal.” This world is constantly changing. Today COVID-19, tomorrow something else. That which is absolutely normal is . . . life in the unchanging, eternal Lord Jesus Christ (Hebrews 13:8), and it is new every morning, every hour, every day, every week (Psalm 23:1-6; Lamentations 3:22-24; John 6:48; 11:25; 14:6; Philippians 1:19-26; Colossians 1:27; 1 John 5:11-12).

So when looking for the “new normal,” look to Christ!

This life is #awesome!

Prayer Points – Day of Prayer

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

Praises

1. God is in complete control (Is. 45:7)

 2. Our Father knows all our needs (Matt. 6:31-33)

3. Nothing can separate us from His love (Rom. 8:37-39)

4. God uses calamity to turn people to Him (Is. 19:22: Hab. 3:2-6)

5. God’s ways are deep and wise (Ps. 92:5,Is. 40:13-14)

6. The LORD is with us (Ps. 46:1, 11)

The World

1. God’s word to have free course and be glorified (2 Thess. 3:1)

2. Seekers to find true shepherds and not false ones (Jer. 50:6, Mark 6:34)

3. Powerful witness of gospel media (Acts 1:8)

4. Repentance of world leaders (Jonah. 3:6, Dan. 4:37)

5. Wisdom for leaders in making decisions (Prov. 21:1, 1 Tim. 2:2)

6. Mercy: Delivering lives and limiting the pandemic (Amos 7:1-6)

7. Specific places: NYC, USA, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, etc. (Ps. 46:10)

8. A realization of the destructive nature of sin in our world (Rom. 5:12)

Those in Need

1. Strength, wisdom, love, and protection for health workers (Ps. 145:9)

2. Healing for those who are sick (Matt. 8:16-17)

3. Income for those who have lost work (Eccl. 5:19)

4. Sustaining of ministries hampered by the lockdowns (Ps. 90:17)

5. Sustaining of persecuted Christians in poor areas of the world (Heb. 13:3)

Spiritual Growth

1. Renewed perspective on God’s priorities for our lives (Ps. 90:12)

2. Pursuit of God more than entertainment (1 John 2:15-17)

3. Devoted time to Scripture memory and meditation (Ps. 119:11)

4. Devoted time to private prayer and corporate prayer (Matt. 6:6, 18:20)

5. Hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matt. 5:6)

6. Purity for God’s people stuck at home (Ps. 119:9-10)

7. Spiritual strength to rise and work (1 Cor. 15:10, Col. 1:29)

8. Growth in faith and endurance (Jam. 1:2-4)

9. Joy and thanksgiving (1 Thess. 5:18, Ps. 92:1)

Families

1. Parents refocusing on their calling to their family (Eph. 6:4)

2. Husbands & wives serving one another spiritually (Gen. 2:18, 1 Pet. 3:7)

3. Families bonding in seeking God together (Ps. 133:1, 1 Chron. 16:10-11)

4. Children learning from their parents’ godly responses (Prov. 23:26)

5. Edifying activities & positive spirits for children stuck at home (Col. 1:9-12)

6. Salvation of unsaved loved ones (1 Cor. 7:16)

Pastors and Missionaries

1. Increased closeness to God Himself (Ps. 73:25)

2. Abounding grace for new and overwhelming challenges (2 Cor. 9:8)

3. Wisdom to re-plan for the rest of the year (Prov. 16:3)

4. Wisdom & Discernment to feed, lead, & protect their people (1 Pet. 5:1-4)

5. Boldness and faith to show people their sin (Is. 58:1, Jer. 23:22)

6. Opportunities to powerfully testify of Christ (Acts 4:33)

7. Protection from attack (2 Thess. 3:2)

8. More laborers sent out to the uttermost parts (Matt. 9:38; Acts 8:1-4)

Local Churches

1. Good online connections and edifying communication (Heb. 10:25)

2. Fellowship for isolated Christians (Ecc. 4:12)

3. Love, grace, forgiveness, mutual care, and increased bonding (Jn. 13:34)

4. Spiritual initiative of members being proactive to edify (Eph. 4:12)

5. Consistent support of pastors and missionaries (2 Cor. 9:11)

6. Increased commitment to one another as a body (1 Cor. 14:12)

7. Unity of God’s people (Jn. 17:21, Eph. 4:3)

Reviving of the Church

1. Deliverance from complacency and spiritual slumber (Rom. 13:11)

2. Alert to the nearness of Christ’s 2nd Coming (Matt. 24:7-8)

3. Revival of corporate prayer & fasting (even while apart) (2 Chr. 20:3-6, 12)

4. Great repentance on individual, local, & international levels (Joel 2:12-17)

5. Formation of prayer groups that will endure beyond this time (Matt. 18:19)

6. Powerful testimonies of hope that impact the panicking world (1 Pet. 3:15)

7. Spirit-empowered boldness in sharing the gospel (Acts 1:8)

8. God manifesting Himself in a mighty way among us (Ex. 33:16, Lk. 11:13)

9. A time of refreshing from the presence of the Lord (Acts 3:19-20)

10. A work of the LORD’s doing, marvelous in our eyes (Ps. 118:23)

“When saints are all alive and instant in prayer, it is the index and token that the Lord will open the windows of heaven and pour them out such a blessing that they shall not have room enough to receive it.” – C.H. Spurgeon

(Compiled by our fellow servant in the gospel ministry, J. B.)

Hold’er Newt!

My father had many “dad” sayings that have lived on through me. One that came to my mind just this morning was, “Hold’er Newt! She’s a headin’ for the pea patch!” What in the world?????

Well, he would use that statement to describe an action that needed to be slowed down, stopped or taken with caution.

Yesterday, the governor of our great state of Tennessee, Governor Bill Lee, announced that he would not extend the “safer-at-home” orders beyond April 30 and would begin to reopen the state. At that moment, I could hear car engines fire up, restaurants buzzing with weight-gained, post-quarantined shoppers, stimulus checks zeroed out in three debit card swipes at reopened stores, and a state of basic euphoria!!

Okay, Dad! Say it! “Hold’er Newt! She’s a headin’ for the pea patch!” I share in that excitement, but is being set free from quarantine and your life returning to what you call “normal” really what you want? Is it best?

First of all, it all begins with our heart. Proverbs 4:23 says, Guard your heart with all diligence, for out of it flows the issues of life. The heart here is not the physical organ within your chest, but it describes the inward core of every person. This is “Central Command.” This is NASA’s “Houston.” In other words, it is the headquarters of your feelings, thoughts, actions, and choices. For instance, Jesus said as recorded in Matthew 15:17-19, Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. And in Luke 6:45, A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil [i]treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. And we must be reminded of the words of Jeremiah, The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately wicked; who can know it? I, the Lord, search the heart,
I test the mind, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings
(17:9-10).

Has this time of quarantine prepared your heart for greater contentment? Has the Word of God been tucked away in your heart during these six or more weeks of shut-down? Is your heart right with God? Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need (Philippians 4:11-12).

Second, have you gained a greater desire for prayer and communion with the Lord during these days such that instead of jumping right back into life the way it used to be, you will find yourself seeking the Lord before any decision or action? Will you and your family be praying more about these days ahead? Now set your mind and heart to seek the Lord your God (1 Chronicles 22:19). May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ (2 Thessalonians 3:5).

Thirdly, will you live a life of rush, rush, rush again (“crazy busy”) or have you planned into your weekly routine times of rest and refreshment? Proverbs 21:5 says, The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty. Have you thought through the biblical priorities of life? What is Christ in you saying about your next step today or next week? Note the words of Christ as recorded in John 4:34, Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. Proverbs 16:3,9 has great counsel for us. Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established. The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps. Remember, every time you say “no” to a non-essential or lesser priority issue, it allows you to say “yes” to something more important. You see, there is eternal, godly ministry that the Lord would have you to participate in that might have been pushed away due to being too busy and too tired. You have a clean whiteboard today. Choose prayerfully and in a God-honoring way (Matthew 6:33;1 Corinthians 10:31).

I write this today to remind myself and you, when we roll back into “regular life,” let’s not forget that a sovereign God permitted this COVID-19 for many, many reasons. As I said in an earlier post, let’s don’t miss it.

So, okay, Dad! Here you go, “Hold’er Newt! She’s a headin’ for the pea patch!”

Don’t Miss It!

Could the rapture be occurring today?

Are we in the beginning of the tribulation period?

Is God judging the world; our country?

Was this virus a part of a conspiracy?

These and many more questions have been asked, and we grope for answers. Of those questions stated above, I know that the rapture of the church has not occurred and therefore the subsequent tribulation (1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:9). Since there are no signs for the rapture, only promises, we know that it could occur right now. As my wife has said, “It will happen in somebody’s lifetime. It might as well be mine!”

Also, in reference to this virus being the judgment of God, I agree with Thomas Schreiner’s statement, “All temporal judgments are meant to direct our attention to final judgment.” (Revelation 20:7-15)

Nevertheless, from the very beginning of the gradual shut-down, “safer at home” mandates, and face masks, I have had one definite fear. It is not a sinful fear, but one that has driven me to prayer and the Word. It is that when the “pandemic” is over, we will miss what God intended for us personally, nationally, and corporately as in our local churches.

This very desire led me to roll out of bed Tuesday morning at 3:30 and get on my knees in prayer. “Lord, You are under no obligation to reveal to me your purposes in permitting this virus, but if You would be so gracious, would you share enough with me so I don’t miss what You want to teach me?”

After prayer, I began to read the Word. Currently, I am reading through 1 Chronicles, Luke, Psalms and Colossians. Normally, there is one psalm to read each day in my Bible reading plan, and having read Psalm 129 on Monday, I read Psalm 130. Having completed my reading and writing in my journal the things God has spoken to me about, I picked up my phone to record my daily reading in the YouVersion app.

My reading was not complete. Psalm 131 was scheduled for Tuesday as well. God speaking to me was not complete either because Psalm 131 was the answer to my prayer. As I read, I believe the Lord revealed to me one of the reasons for this trial. “Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with his mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me” (Psalm 131:2). God has seen fit at this time to wean us off of much of what we thought was so important for life to be fulfilled.

This is good. Many said before the virus, “I sure wish I could slow down.” Or, “Life is crazy busy!” Or, “There is so much going on that I can’t keep up!” Well, we got our wish. What will we do with It? What have we been doing with it?

Folks, God is trying to get our attention! We had better be awake (Romans 13:11-14). During this shut-down . . .

  • How are the current circumstances giving you an opportunity to seek the Lord?
  • What has the Lord said specifically to you? Could you write it down; could you articulate it?
  • What changes have been made spiritually that will affect all other areas of your life going forward? What has been “weaned away” from you? (Romans 6:1-14; 8:1-39; Ephesians 4:17-32)
  • Have you given more time to prayer? (Psalm 130; Romans 8:26-27; 1 Timothy 2:1-8)
  • Have you read the Word with a greater passion and hunger for Truth? (Psalm 119)
  • Have you sensed a greater conviction of the Holy Spirit that has led to repentance and transformation into Christlikeness? (Acts 17:30; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Hebrews 4:12)
  • Have you been crying out to the Lord for a spiritual awakening and revival in our land? (Psalms 3:4; 80; 61:2; 85:6 119:126; Joel 2:12-13)
  • Have you found yourself thinking more about prophecy, the end times? (Titus 2:13)
  • Have you come to realize your need of eternal hope; the need of a personal relationship with Christ? If so, listen to the following link: https://vimeo.com/41496372

This Sunday will mark the fifth Sunday in-a-row that we will not be gathering within the walls of brick and mortal as a church to worship our great God and to fellowship together. How grateful I am for the online connection that has helped us to continue to grow and “meet.” No matter, for our congregation and myself, I don’t want us to miss it! I don’t want any of us to miss what God has to say to us; what He has planned for us going forward!

O God, You are my God;
Early will I seek You;
My soul thirsts for You;
My flesh longs for You
In a dry and thirsty land
Where there is no water.
2 So I have looked for You in the sanctuary,
To see Your power and Your glory.

3 Because Your lovingkindness is better than life,
My lips shall praise You.
4 Thus I will bless You while I live;
I will lift up my hands in Your name.
5 My soul shall be satisfied as with [a]marrow and [b]fatness,
And my mouth shall praise You with joyful lips.

6 When I remember You on my bed,
I meditate on You in the night watches.
7 Because You have been my help,
Therefore in the shadow of Your wings I will rejoice.
8 My soul follows close behind You;
Your right hand upholds me.
(Psalm 63:1-8)

Fear

Fear . . . the dwelling place of millions around the world today.

Fear . . .

  • Puts you in bondage.
  • Sells.
  • Keeps you on edge.
  • Is a companion of worry, anxiety, discouragement, depression, despair, stress, physcial ailment, suicide, etc.
  • Lies.
  • Produces weakness.
  • Is no friend of love.
  • Is a snare in life.
  • Leads to quick, unwise decisions.
  • Causes panic.

What is the opposite of fear? Some of the antonyms of fear are assurance, boldness, confidence, courage, faith and love.

So, how do we live with these characteristics in this fear-filled age? May I encourage you to get a Bible and read each of the passages listed below? Read them slow. Meditate on them. Soak your soul in the eternal, life-giving, absolute truths of God’s Word! Let it wash over your fears and lead you to a faith-filled life that dwells above it all!

What does God say about fear? Joshua 1:9; Psalms 23:1-6; 27:1; 56:3-4; 91:1-16; Isaiah 41:10; 43:1; Matthew 6:25-34; John 14:27; Romans 8:28-39; Philippians 4:6-8; 2 Timothy 1:7.

I Don’t Want to Go Back to Normal!

COVID-19 has changed all of our worlds around the world!

In short order, our personal calendars have gone blank. Any attempt to reschedule has the word “hopefully” attached to it.

For thousands, there is a longing to get back to “normal” such as work, school, ballgames, shopping, eating out, not wearing a mask, etc.

There is one area of life that I hope does not return to “normal,” and that is what I will call “typical church life” here in America before the coronavirus.

My perception at times over the years has been that the church has been too reliant on programs and “business as usual.” (I remember attending a church growth conference in the 80’s that said if I would spend a $100 to buy their materials, my church would grow to 300 in one year.) With that in mind, there have been occasions where I have desired to announce on a Sunday, “Beginning now, all ministries of this local church are laid aside. For the next 40 days, we will give ourselves to fervent prayer and the reading of God’s Word to discern how Christ, the Head of the Church (Ephesians 5:23), would have us continue His ministry for His glory (Acts 1:1-14; 1 Corinthians 10:31) in the days to come.”

Well, guess what? It happened! We are living it out right now in April 2020. Indeed, these are uncharted waters for all of us. At the risk of sounding heartless for all who have suffered loss, I must say that I am optimistic! I believe God is up to something awesome right now, and because the Church is His vehicle to accomplish His redemptive purposes, and the Church is still here, having not been taken out (1 Thessalonians 4:13=18), I’m on my knees. I’m watching. I’m anticipating. I’m longing. I’m expecting. I’m reading. I’m listening. I’m rejoicing.

You see, who am I, but I will say with a broken, weary heart that I don’t want to return to “normal” if it’s more of . . .

  • Man-centered, convenience-driven, “I’ll serve if it doesn’t interfere with MY life” ministry. In other words, the self-life taking preeminence over the Christ-life. (Romans 12:1-2; Galatians 2:20)
  • Prayer meetings usually being the least attended gathering of God’s people on any given week. (Acts 1:13-14; 4:23-31;12:5-17)
  • Lost souls not hearing the gospel from the redeemed on a regular basis; few coming to Christ; and the baptismal pool having to be swept out because it’s become a den of cobwebs and dead bugs. (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15)
  • Dry, empty altars. Call me old-fashioned, legalistic, and/or emotional, but we need a fresh awareness of the holiness of God, a renewed vision of Christ and a visitation of the convicting power of the Holy Spirit that drives us to our knees in repentance and revival! (e.g. Judges 10:10; 2 Kings 11:17-20; 2 Chron. 15:1-19; Acts 2-5; 10-20)
  • Personal preferences and the fear of man being the driver of ministry decisions as well as the stated “biblical standard” which determines whether we are right or wrong. Since the virus has shuttered our Sunday meetings and weekly ministries, I don’t hear complaining about music preferences, Bible translation arguments, -ism discussions (whatever you wish to use to preface -ism, put it in there). By the way, I don’t think we are going to hear about many church splits during this time!!! (Proverbs 25;29; Romans 12:10; Ephesians 4:1-6; Philippians 2:14; Colossians 1:9-18)
  • Church membership being a take-it-or-leave-it decision. (1 Corinthians 5:1-12; 2 Corinthians 2:6; 1 Timothy 5:17; Hebrews 13:17; 1 Peter 5:1-5)
  • Pharisaical, hide-behind-my-looking-good-Sunday-attire and continuing to answer the “How you doing?” question with a “Fine!” Oh, that we would be transparent and genuine in our conversation acknowledging our dependence upon the Lord and His people. Oh, that we would enter into the hurts, sorrows, burdens, and sins of others through prayer and scripture reading to help them take the next step toward Christ during fellowship time rather than being upset that our favorite donut was no longer available. (Romans 14:19; 15:14; Ephesians 4:15; Colossians 3:16; Hebrews 10:24-25; James 5:16)
  • Prayerless, powerless, going-through-the-motion preaching and teaching of God’s Word in every area of ministry. Martyn Lloyd-Jones put it this way, “If there is no power, there is no preaching.” (Isaiah 61:1; Zechariah 4:6; John 15:5; 1 Corinthians 1:18; 2:14; 3:6-7; 2 Corinthians 9:8; Philippians 2:13; 2 Timothy 4:2)

Over the past few weeks, I have heard pastors say that they were attempting to keep things as normal as possible while using online services. I totally understand what they are saying. With all my heart, may I say, let’s not seek to keep things normal. Let’s cry out for a fresh touch from the Throne of God! Let’s be willing to go with God and not be timid about asking for a fresh movement of the power of God. And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness (Acts 4:31).

Perhaps we could begin that 40 day prayer movement now so we will be ready to follow the Head of the Church into this new territory of ministry when the Lord opens the doors.

I end this post truly from from my pastor’s heart, with two quotes from Vance Havner:

“Too many church services start at eleven sharp and end at twelve dull.”

“The church is so subnormal that if it ever got back to the New Testament normal it would seem to people to be abnormal.”

I don’t want to go back to normal!

A Quarantined Marriage

Monday, my in-laws celebrated 65 years of marriage!! Wow!! What a milestone by God’s grace! And let me say right now, they are still like two little love-birds continuing to feather their nest and keep their marriage fresh. But I will tell you, they made a major adjustment in their relationship when my father-in-law retired early as a plant engineer. My mother-in-law was not used to Dad being at home every day. Being the consummate servant that he is, well, he kept “getting under mom’s feet.” I promise you, there were indeed some adjustments for both of them.

Is that how you feel wives, now that many of the husbands are working at home or vice versa due to COVID-19? Perhaps at first it was a welcomed change. But if these weeks move forward at their projected pace, how’s your quarantined marriage going to look? Will it be like a brief video that is making its way around the internet that has a married man listening to a voice recording that says, “Because of coronavirus, you are going to be quarantined, but you have a choice. Do you A) quarantine with your wife and child or B? And before the voice can announce what “B” is, the father says, “B!” Or, will you make the adjustments and come out on the other side of this trial having put into your marriage the ingredients that can make it 65 years if the Lord wills?

May I say first of all, let’s not waste this opportunity. In spite of the trial, God has given us an opportunity to push the reset button, but not to go back to the way it was before. Reset priorities, schedule, goals, passion, direction, values, etc.

As for your marriage, this quarantine time gives you the opportunity to:

  1. Pray together (And not just at meal time). Stop and pray several times throughout the day. Share your fears, concerns, and anxieties with each other. Then compassionately pray for one another.
  2. Read God’s Word together at breakfast, lunch or supper or before bedtime.
  3. Read a devotional book together such as Paul Tripp’s, New Morning Mercies.
  4. Read a marriage book together such as Emerson Eggrich’s, Love and Respect.
  5. Memorize a passage of scripture together that is relevant to this trial such as Joshua 1:9; Psalms 27:1-4; 34:1-9; 119:92-93; Isaiah 41:10; 2 Timothy 1:7; 2 Peter 3:18.
  6. Spend time together on the couch cuddled up like you used to do when you were dating and/or first married. As a matter of fact, go back to some of the things you did when you were newlyweds that added spark to your relationship. Get out of the rut. (Saturday night, my wife and I cuddled on the couch listening to Kenny Roger’s love songs that we’ve enjoyed through our dating and married life. Sure was fun to just be still and hold each other!)
  7. Put your children to bed so you can have some quiet time together talking, praying, reading, playing a game, watching a movie, etc.
  8. Walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16, 22-23).
  9. Be forgiving (Ephesians 4:26, 29-32).
  10. Laugh (Proverbs 17:22).
  11. Be romantic with each other.
  12. Take a drive through the country . . . not a fast one either!
  13. Show love and respect for each other by your appearance. Don’t stay in your pjs all day.
  14. Take walks together (hand-in-hand) or work out together.
  15. Work with a pastor or a biblical counselor via the phone or Zoom to repair some hard places in your marriage.
  16. Build a better home for your children. They need the security on knowing that mom and dad really do love each other.
  17. Most of all, grow in your personal relationship with God. The very best thing you can be and do for your spouse and family is to be a growing, maturing believer in Christ (Ephesians 5:18-33; 2 Peter 3:18). Since you have extra time on your hands due to the gym being closed, ball games cancelled, restaurants shuttered, etc., prioritize the most important relationship!

“Divorce rates in China have risen sharply since the coronvirus pandemic began, and America may well be next. It’s understandable. With social distancing measures in place, people are stuck with their spouses in close quarters indefinitely, which eliminates the necessary space many of us need to actually miss our [husband/wife].” (Parade, March 18, 2020)

A marriage that lasts 65 years has to be worked at day-by-day with many adjustments along the way. Don’t let your marriage be a casualty to COVID-19. Make social distancing work for your marriage, not against your marriage. The grace of God defies all of man’s reasoning and ability. Don’t waste the opportunity!

Quarantined

A few weeks ago, the word “quarantine” was not a frequently used term in our every day vocabulary. Now it is a repeated visitor in our minds and speech along with the terms social distancing, pandemic, fear, worry, panic, cancelled, closed and isolation in light of the spreading coronavirus.

Merriam-Webster defines quarantine as “a restraint upon the activities or communication of persons . . . designed to prevent the spread of disease; a place of isolation; to isolate from normal relations or communication.”

Someone might say, “What’s the difference between isolation and quarantine?” While isolation serves the same purpose as quarantine, it’s reserved for those who are already sick. It keeps infected people away from healthy people to prevent the sickness from spreading. (clevelandclinic.org/covid-19)

President Trump has outlined a 15-day plan to slow the spread of the virus. The CDC is keeping us informed in real time. This virus has and is changing our world.

There is another “quarantine” of which every believer should be most familiar. This quarantine is the number one way to effectively deal with the virus. fear, panic, worry, as well as the moment-by-moment effects and news of this pandemic.

That quarantine is your “secret place,” the place where you get alone with God to pray. The place where you “restrain upon the activities or communication of persons,” and you share your heart with God and you listen to God. (Prayer is not a one-way communication.)

That “secret place” is where you “prevent the spread of disease” of worry, fear, doubt, anxiety, dread, panic, and stress.

Listen to these words from Psalm 91:1-6

1 He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High
Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress;
My God, in Him I will trust.”

3 Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the [a]fowler
And from the perilous pestilence.
4 He shall cover you with His feathers,
And under His wings you shall take refuge;
His truth shall be your shield and [b]buckler.
5 You shall not be afraid of the terror by night,
Nor of the arrow that flies by day,
6 Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness,
Nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday.

Where is your quarantined, secret place? Perhaps it is kneeling beside your bed in the middle of the night or when you arise each morning. Maybe it’s a special place in your den, living room, back porch, office, or outdoors.

For the Lord Jesus Christ, that secret place was a mountain (Matthew 14:23; Mark 6:46) or a secluded place (Mark 1:35) or a garden (Matthew 26:36) to name a few.

My friend, to have the eternal perspective on this virus, to have a peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:6-8), to have wisdom from above (James 1:5), to have a genuine place of refuge (Psalm 91:4), to experience God’s mercy and grace (Hebrews 4:14-16), you must spend time quarantined in the secret place.

We don’t relish being quarantined or isolated in our American way of life. But there is a “quarantine” that you will never regret, and you will long for as the days go by.

I’ll see you at the Throne of Grace!