I am not sure when the term social distancing was created but the first time I heard it was March 2020. It has been a recommendation and now it is moving into a necessity. The world has been upended by the need for quarantine and our hearts are reeling from the effects of social distancing.
While I realize that these things are necessary, it doesn't lighten the mood knowing that we are separated from our church friends, co-workers, neighbors, and even parts of our family. Yet in the midst of it all, we can find the good in all of these things.
The old adage reminds us, "Absence makes the heart grow fonder." A true statement because, I believe, absence makes us recognize the things that we have taken for granted. As Americans, especially, we take for granted the conveniences that we have. We often take for granted the relationships we are engaged in. There are many people who have a hard time with certain people at work but they might be to see them again when they get back to the office.
Social distancing helps us to realize that God created man to walk through life together. In the book of Genesis, God said, "It is not good that man should be alone." Of course, this was speaking of marriage, but it also holds true that we definitely need relationships. Thus, we see the importance of having a church family and valuing the family you have at home.
In these trying days where we feel disconnected, why not utilize the technology we have and reach out to others. Call, text, email, Facetime or video call someone that you are missing. Most of us are longing to see our friends again and we can whine and groan about the situation that we have found ourselves in. But our response should be that of gratefulness. At least you have some good relationships that you value. At least there are those you love and those who love you.
The Apostle Paul was very candid with his words of longing for his dear friend Timothy. He said, "I long to see you again, for I remember your tears as we parted. And I will be filled with joy when we are together again." (2 Timothy 1:4 NLT) I long to see you again...I will be filled with joy when we are together again. Indeed, absence makes the heart grow fonder. When you think of others, reach out and let them know you are thinking of them. It is easy to sink into introversion in a time of social distancing. In 2020, however, when we are distant in person, we still have means to connect, though we are not face to face.
Trust is a difficult thing because it leaves your life in the hands of someone else. Many people have been disappointed by others or perhaps even found themselves in tough situations because someone let you down. Our mistrust of others sometimes translates into our relationship with God.
We often have difficulty giving God everything, in fear of being let down again. Yet, the only thing we can do in life’s challenges is to let God have control. Fear keeps us from trusting. When we give way to the fears of our life, we will find it difficult trusting God.
The enemy of our souls exploits our fears and causes us to keep our hands on things that we really can’t control in the first place. Our hearts are gripped with fear and it usually is seen in the many questions that begin with “What If…?” Since, we cannot answer most of the what-ifs, we fear the outcomes.
This causes us to lack trust in God, because it is hard to leave him in charge of the what-ifs. He is, however, the only one that knows the future and God can always see the unseen.
This morning, I was reading through the first chapters of the book of Psalms. Honestly, the book of Psalms is my go-to when life seems to be challenging. I never grow tired of the words of the Psalmist, because it always lifts my spirit and gives me hope.
Listen to these words:
“Those who know your name trust in you, for you, O Lord, do not abandon those who search for you.” (Psalm 9:10 NLT)
David writes that if we know God’s name, we will trust in Him.
There is so much that is promised in God’s different names. You can trust Him because He is Jehovah-Rapha, God our Healer. He is Jehovah-Jireh, God our Provider. Jehovah-Shammah, The God who is there. He is Jehovah-Shalom, God our Peace and Prosperity. He is Jehovah-Nissi, The Lord our Banner (protection). He is El-Shaddai, God the All Sufficient One.
There are many more names that we can trust in. But notice what else David said. “For you, O Lord, DO NOT abandon those who search for you.” The promise here is that God does not leave us or forsake us. We can trust Him with our lives because He is an ever-present help in our time of need.
I understand the days that we are living in, right now, are challenging and uncertain. Yet, the only thing that is Certain is the God who is on the throne. You can trust Him with your life.
The Psalmist wrote in Psalm 10:17, “Lord, you know the hopes of the helpless. Surely you will hear their cries and comfort them.” NLT
Friend, even when we feel helpless, God hears our prayers and He will always comfort us. The things that we are facing in our lives today, cannot always be in our control. I encourage you to leave them in the control of the only person who can make a way where there seems to be know way. Trust In Jesus!
The thought of revival has been heavy on my heart these last few days. Where is revival? Do we even desire to see it again in the church? What really is revival and are we willing to pay the price for it?
If there is something this nation needs it is revival! Furthermore, the church is at a critical place in America and revival is the only thing that will propel the church forward. There are thriving and alive churches but we truly need an outpouring of the Holy Spirit that will result in changed lives.
I read an article recently that arrested my attention:
"Evangelism, fine as it is, is not revival. After a signally successful meeting, Billy Graham was asked, "Is this revival?" Graham replied, "No. When revival comes, I expect to see two things which we have not seen yet. First, a new sense of the holiness of God on the part of Christians; and second, a new sense of the sinfulness of sin on the part of Christians."
We might add a third and closely-related indication of revival: a new working of the Holy Spirit in the local church. Why? For two big reasons, among others; first, because the Word of God calls for it; and second, because the world challenge calls for it." —Moody Monthly-
If we take God's Word seriously then these words will beckon us to search our hearts. Revival will produce holiness and it will cause us to be aware of our own sinfulness. The problem lies in the fact that we have rewritten what holiness is. Christians embrace, watch, participate, and talk in ways that once were considered unholy. Has God changed His mind? Or have we changed our view of holiness?
I still read the Psalmist with a great fear of God when He said:
"1 Who may worship in your sanctuary, Lord? Who may enter your presence on your holy hill?
2 Those who lead blameless lives and do what is right, speaking the truth from sincere hearts." Psalm 15 NLT
I believe the church will see revival when we lead the way of being a holy people, a people set apart to God and willing to ask Him to search our hearts and see if there is any wicked way in us. Uncomfortable? Yes! But necessary if we are to see God bring a revival to our church and our lives.
I pray, today, for You to give us a harvest of souls. Let there no longer be a drought of salvations; for our generation needs Jesus. Help us to be salt and light in this world and reflect you to our neighbors, our friends, and our family. The only hope for our world is Jesus and I pray that you would give us opportunities to share the Gospel and to show the love of Christ to others. Help me be sensitive to the Holy Spirit, so that I might feel His leading to reach out to those who are apart from You. I yield myself to You and make myself available to share Jesus with others.
In His Name! Amen!
Have you ever tried to find quiet in a noisy world?
Today’s life is filled with busy activities and things that clutter our minds. We often feel that the more we have to do on our calendar the better. After all staying busy, “Keeps us out of trouble”, right?
However, when is the last time you stopped to smell the roses? When is the last time that you sat down uninterrupted for 20 to 30 minutes and just meditated on the things of God?
Psalm 46 declares, “Be still and know that I am God.”
It is often hard to hear God’s voice or even to sense His presence when everything else is calling our name. We always have another place to go, another thing to do, another call to make. Remember, however, to take time to be still. God’s embrace is not very far away. You just have to stop long enough to embrace Him back.
I challenge you this week to take 20-30 minutes alone in a place that is free from distraction. Do not turn on your cell phone, or bring anything with you but your Bible and be still. That’s right, Be still! I know it is hard for some people to “sit around” but take the challenge anyway.
Be still and you will find refreshing for your weary soul.
One of the Classic Christian Authors that can instantly stir the passions of my soul is Andrew Murray. He spoke often of our relationship with God and our lives of prayer. Read these words and let your prayer life be stirred:
“The first and chief need of our Christian life is, Fellowship with God. The Divine life within us comes from God, and is entirely dependent upon Him. As I need every moment afresh the air to breathe, as the sun, every moment afresh sends down its light, so it is only in direct living communication with God that my soul can be strong.
The manna of one day was corrupt when the next day came. I must every day have fresh grace from heaven, and I obtain it only in direct waiting upon God Himself. Begin each day by tarrying before God, and letting Him touch you. Take time to meet God.
To this end, let your first act in your devotion be a setting yourself still before God. In prayer, or worship, everything depends upon God taking the chief place. I must bow quietly before Him in humble faith and adoration, speaking thus within my heart: “God is. God is near. God is love, longing to communicate Himself to me. God the Almighty One, Who worketh all in all, is even now waiting to work in me, and make Himself known.” Take time, till you know God is very near.
When you have given God His place of honor, glory, and power, take your place of deepest lowliness, and seek to be filled with the Spirit of humility. As a creature it is your blessedness to be nothing, that God may be all in you. As a sinner you are not worthy to look up to God; bow in self abasement. As a saint, let God’s love overwhelm you, and bowing, you still lower down. Sink down before Him in humility, meekness, patience, and surrender to His goodness and mercy. He will exalt you.” Andrew Murray, The Deeper Christian Life
Join me in praying the prayer for Rogers First Assembly every day this week.
Oh, that you would rend the Heavens and come down. I pray that the Ozark Mountains would shake at Your Presence. We ask you for a powerful move of Your Spirit and that we would know Your presence. Help us yield ourselves to what you want to do at Rogers First Assembly. Our desire is to have an Encounter With You!
Awaken us to the moving of Your Holy Spirit and let our eyes be fixed on You. Let our lives be a reflection of Your working in us and let Your presence affect our lives in a powerful way. We need You, O God!
In Jesus Name, Amen!
I came across this article again today and I believe it is a good reminder to us about how we can impact the visitors that come each week. God allows us to see visitors each week and if we will continue to love them as well as go the extra step to build relationships with them, we could see an increase in how many guests we see coming back.
Here is the article by Thom Rainer:
One of the more common questions I’m asked relates to growth barriers. For example, church leaders may want to know how to move past the 150-attendance level of the past five years. Or other leaders desire to know how to break though financial giving barriers.
Those questions are tough because they often presume a brief response to be adequate. In reality, there are many theological and methodological issues at work in growth barriers. Today, I am looking at a very basic barrier: lack of friendliness to church guests.
In a previous blog post, I noted things we should not say to a guest in our worship services. In today’s post I look at the positive perspective: seven things we should say to guests.
1. “Thank you for being here.”It’s just that basic. I have heard from numerous church guests who returned because they were simply told “thank you.”
2. “Let me help you with that.”If you see someone struggling with umbrellas, young children, diaper bags, purses and other items, a gesture to hold something for them is a huge positive. Of course, this comment is appropriate for member to member as well.
3. “Please take my seat.”I actually heard that comment twice in a church where I was speaking in the Nashville area. The first comment came from a member to a young family of five who were trying to find a place to sit together.
4. “Here is my email address. Please let me know if I can help in any way.”Of course, this comment must be used with discretion, but it can be a hugely positive message to a guest
5. “Can I show you where you need to go?”Even in smaller churches, guests will not know where to find the nursery, restrooms and small group meeting areas. You can usually tell when a guest does not know where he or she is to go.
6. “Let me introduce you to ___________.”The return rate of guests is always higher if they meet other people. A church member may have the opportunity to introduce the guest to the pastor, other church staff and other members of the church.
7. “Would you join us for lunch?”I saved this question for last for two reasons. First, the situation must obviously be appropriate before you offer the invitation. Second, I have seen this approach have the highest guest return rate of any one factor. What if your church members sought to invite different guests 6 to 12 times a year? The burden would not be great; but the impact would be huge.
Let’s look at one example of breaking attendance barriers by saying the right things to guests. Presume your church has two first-time guests a week. Over the course of a year, the church would have 100 first-time guests. With most of the members being genuinely guest friendly, you could see half of those guests become active members. Attendance could thus increase by as much as 50 persons every year.
Good interaction with guests is a huge step toward breaking attendance barriers, but it is obviously not the only step. We are launching a new subscription ministry called Church Answers. One of the three resources you will get every month is called “Breaking Barriers.”
Thom S. Rainer is the president of LifeWay Christian Resources. For the original article, visit thomrainer.com.
A couple years ago, Sonya and I were driving to a hike in the Buffalo River area. This area is the most beautiful place in Arkansas and the scenery is breathtaking. As we were driving back through the country, I noticed this church that was hidden behind weeds and brush. As you look at the picture, you see that it is overgrown, unkempt, and neglected. It sparked a thought within me. Where had the people gone and where had the passion for this country church escaped to? I realize that this is a rural church in a small community, but someone started it with a passion to reach people and now, where had that passion gone?
When looking at this picture, I am reminded of the words of John:
John 2:17 NLT, “Then his disciples remembered this prophecy from the Scriptures: “Passion for God’s house will consume me.”
In our society today we have a passion for a lot of different things. Sports, education, media and movies, food, relationships, and everything that brings us pleasure. Jesus was known, from the beginning of His ministry, for His passion for God’s House.
Here is a fulfillment of a prophecy,” Passion for God’s House will consume me.” This begs the question, “Does a passion for Gods House consume us?”. If we are passionate about things of this world, how much more should we be passionate about the things of God.
We should be passionate for God’s house in the following areas:
1. Passionate to GO to God’s House.
Are we faithful to His House or do we let other things keep us away? We must be careful that we don’t let things keep us from corporate worship.
2. Passionate to PRAY for God’s House.
How often do you pray for your church? If we belong to a church then we should pray for the church, its pastors and leaders. There is no greater way to impact the church than to pray for it. Pray equals power.
3. Passionate to GROW in God’s House.
There is an old saying that says we should bloom where we are planted. Are you planted and blooming in church? It is difficult to mature spiritually apart from the church. Now, this doesn’t mean that it is the church’s job to make you grow. You have to feed yourself. But growth happens at a greater pace when you are linked with other believers. Being taught and ministered to. You grow when you are feeding yourself at home and then blooming in a Bible teaching congregation.
4. Passionate to SERVE in God’s House.
If you belong to a church, are you serving in that church? Everyone is called to ministry. We must use our giftings to serve others. People who are passionate for Gods house serve in God’s House.
5. Passionate to BUILD God’s House.
When is the last time you invited someone to church? It is not solely the pastor’s responsibility to build God’s House, it is everyone’s. The pastor equips the saints for the work of the ministry and the saints minister. It means that every church member is a builder. Building by inviting and building by serving.
We all need to grow in these areas. Find where you are lacking and work diligently to grow in passion for God’s House. Let us be passionate for God's House and for the work of His Kingdom.
This morning, I woke up early to work on my message and as often happens, messages tend to steer a little different direction than I anticipate. In Jesus' resurrection visitation to His disciples, He commissions them by sending them to the world with the message of forgiveness and repentance. Since, Scripture interprets Scripture, I checked the cross references for this passage and their message of forgiveness was coupled with actually forgiving others themselves.
They had just witnessed the brutality of Jesus' crucifixion at the hands of the religious authorities and the Roman government. Jesus was commissioning them to go out and share the gospel with these very people and that would require that they learn to forgive them for their actions. The irony of this message is seen in the fact that the disciples were behind closed doors in fear of the people that had crucified Christ. There would have been some issues of, not only fear, but also the disciples holding the offense against those who had killed Jesus.
Then Christ tells them to preach forgiveness and repentance but also for them to forgive those to whom they preach. We are reminded of Jesus' words in the Gospel of Matthew.
“If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. 15 But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins." Matthew 6:14-15 NLT
Jesus reveals that forgiveness is critical to us as well as the offender. Yet, that is easier said than done. In studying for Sunday's message, I came across a story about Corrie Ten Boom. She was a survivor of the Nazi Concentration camps and releasing forgiveness to her enemies had proven a challenge. This story is a powerful illustration for us and how we can forgive and let go of the offenses of others.
Corrie ten Boom told of not being able to forget a wrong that had been done to her. She had forgiven the person, but she kept rehashing the incident and so couldn’t sleep. Finally Corrie cried out to God for help in putting the problem to rest.
"His help came in the form of a kindly Lutheran pastor," Corrie wrote, "to whom I confessed my failure after two sleepless weeks." "Up in the church tower," he said, nodding out the window, "is a bell which is rung by pulling on a rope. But you know what? After the sexton lets go of the rope, the bell keeps on swinging. First ding, then dong. Slower and slower until there’s a final dong and it stops. I believe the same thing is true of forgiveness. When we forgive, we take our hand off the rope. But if we’ve been tugging at our grievances for a long time, we mustn’t be surprised if the old angry thoughts keep coming for a while. They’re just the ding-dongs of the old bell slowing down."
"And so it proved to be. There were a few more midnight reverberations, a couple of dings when the subject came up in my conversations, but the force -- which was my willingness in the matter -- had gone out of them. They came less and less often and at the last stopped altogether: we can trust God not only above our emotions, but also above our thoughts."
For you and I to be able to forgive and let go of the offense requires that we quit ringing the bell. Quit rehashing the offense. Quit playing it over and over in your heart and mind. Give it to God and let Him help you, just quit pulling the rope on the bell of offense. Let go of the rope!
O Gracious God! This day signifies more to us than any other day. While we celebrate the resurrection every day, this Easter Sunday we recognize that this is what paved the way for all things. On Friday, the price was paid for our sins. Your precious Son shed His blood so that we might be redeemed. On Friday, the goodness of the Son of God was seen in that He breathed His last, so that we might be saved. As they laid Him in that tomb, the price was paid, our sins forgiven. Cleansing had come and this cleansing was once and for all. No more sacrifices, Jesus was THE sacrifice. The Spotless Lamb of God, took the sins of the world on Him.
Yet, that sacrifice on Friday had a tandem partner. The two go hand in hand. Side by Side. The resurrection on Sunday brought eternity to the sacrifice on Friday. When Jesus walked out of that tomb it signified so much more. His resurrection conquered death, hell and the grave. His resurrection, turned our death into life. Because He lives, we now have so much more in this life and the one yet to come. Because of Jesus' resurrection, we can have life. Life abundant. Eternal Life. Life forevermore. The Cross on Friday gave us access to You, Our Heavenly Father, and the resurrection on Sunday, gave us that access for all eternity.
O God! May this resurrection day be a day where we embrace that Eternal Life. Let this day be an awakening for all of us that because You have paid the price for us, we will introduce others to this great gift. On this resurrection Sunday, may we be filled with that same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead and let that Spirit empower us to bring others to You.
Thank you for the Friday and the Sunday. Thank you that Friday was Good and Sunday makes sure that goodness lives forever!
In Jesus Name. AMEN!
2,000 years ago was a day that lives in history books as the most brutal, torturous, and unjust day for an innocent man, who was killed for the claims He made. Only 33 years old, this man died a brutal death for claiming to be the Son of God.
He had raised the dead, made the lame to walk, caused the blind to see, and fed 5,000 people with just a few loaves of bread and a couple fish. He arrived in Israel in a way that was uncharacteristic. He was born of a virgin who had been overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. His express purpose for such an incredible birth was that He would live a sinless life and take our sins on Him.
He was indeed the Son of God, but by claiming that title, He was arrested and tortured. His back was laid open by the Roman Flagrum. He was mocked and beaten beyond recognition. He was spit upon and His beard was ripped from His face. He was stripped naked and nailed to a cruel cross. That cross was hoisted in the air and there He hung for all the world to see.
From that cross, He looked over His mockers and haters and prayed, "Father, Forgive Them For They Know Not What They Do!" He was offering forgiveness to the those who did not deserve it and it was the blood He shed that would be offered to cover their sins.
Possibly my favorite prophecy concerning the Messiah is found in Isaiah 53:12.
"I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier,
because he exposed himself to death.
He was counted among the rebels.
He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels"
Friends, He bore our sins and interceded for us in our rebellion. He did that for you and me. To quote the old hymn, "Oh, What A Savior!" 2,000 years ago it would not have been called a Good Friday. But in 2019, it is a Good Friday because that fateful day secures salvation for all mankind.
There is a pain that is difficult to bear,
Some have said that I shouldn’t even care.
Let it go, forget about the wrong that was done,
But I remember it happened to me, more than just once.
It is ever on my mind and the wound breaks my heart,
It drove a wedge between us, it drove us far apart.
With the offender, I was counted as a friend,
How could they hurt me, over and over again?
Will the pain ever cease?
Will this hurt ever decrease?
If time really heals all wounds,
Then, why does this hurt seem so new?
But then I see a glimmer of hope, from one so pure,
With nails in his hands and feet, I think I see a cure.
He paid the price for my healing and for my hurt,
It is only His blood, through His suffering, that this will work.
So, I release my pain to the One who died for me
So that from this aching wound, I might finally be free.
The ideal life is in our blood and never will be still. Sad will be the day for any of us, when we become contented with the thoughts we are thinking and the deeds we are doing - where there is not forever waiting at the doors of our soul some great desire to do something larger, which we know that we were meant and made to do. -Elbert Hubbard-
The reason many people today are not satisfied or they are left feeling empty is because of the longing of the soul. Within us is the desire for more. Within in us is a craving to be something or to acheive something.
Yet, so many people feel it is the success of the world or what the world tells us success is that is important. We want to achieve, but that longing within us is the desire to be useful. I believe the longing within is not only to be important but to feel important. This means we want our work to count.
We want to live a life that does something significant and something that has an impact on the world around us. This is the reason so many become disenfranchised with life. We gain all that we set out to do but found it is not enough. This is the importance of doing something worthwhile for the soul.
We seek so hard to achieve in this world that we tend to neglect the soul's work or the Lord's work. The only thing that will last is serving the Lord and serving others. If you are to find fulfillment in life, it will only come by doing something without you at the center. When Christ is the center of all we do, life has more meaning.