Archive | April, 2020

When We have More Questions than Answers

24 Apr

immutable

As I write these words, it’s Friday afternoon and another Sunday is approaching.  The seventh consecutive Sunday that the church I serve will not meet in person for worship. It’s hard to comprehend.  While talking to a pastor friend of mine this week, I joked that I keep waiting to wake up one morning and find out that the last six weeks have all been a season of “The Twilight Zone” and find that everything is reset back to February.  Not happening. All of this is very, very real.

As the leader of a local church, I have lots of questions.  When will we be able to gather again for worship on Sunday morning?  What on earth will that need to look like when we do?  What percentage of our people will even be comfortable coming anyway?  How do we keep people connected, growing spiritually, and feeling part of the church over an extended period of time when many will not be able to meet with us in person?  What can we do about Vacation Bible School this summer?   How badly will the economic devastation of the last few weeks affect our families long term?   What about planning for the Fall at church when school starts back?  Will school start back in August?   How will this affect our church long term?

Those are the questions in my corner of the world.  I have precious few answers.  OK, I have NO answers right now.

You may be reading this blog and your mind is filled with other questions – some weightier than the questions on my mind.  What will I do now that I have lost my job?  How long will I have a job?  Will my senior in high school be able to start college in August?  Will our wedding need to be postponed?  I was planning to retire this year, but can I afford to now?   How long will it be until I can hug my elderly parent?   We have a vacation planned in July, should we cancel it?  On and on and on it goes.  Question after question. Precious few, if any, answers.

What do we do when we have more questions than answers?  

What do we do when we have NO answers? 

In the interest of transparency, I have wrestled with those questions in my own heart lately.  Maybe more so than at any time in my life and ministry there are more questions with little to no answers.  Unfortunately, this is likely true for every reader of this blog. One aspect that has made all of this so disconcerting is the swiftness with which it came upon us.  On March 1st everything was rocking along pretty good and then with breathtaking speed, the whole country shut down, tens of thousands of people died, over 20 million people lost their jobs, and no one has any firm answers about anything.  EVERYTHING HAS CHANGED AND THERE ARE NO ANSWERS RIGHT NOW. As I wrestled with these issues in my own heart, one of the great truths of scripture echoed in my mind over and over again….

The IMMUTABILITY of God.

It is one of the most comforting attributes of God.  He doesn’t change. Nothing changes Him. This truth is taught over and over in scripture….

“Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but you are the same, and your years have no end.” (Psalm 102:25–27, ESV)

““For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” (Malachi 3:6, ESV)

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17, ESV)

In his classic systematic theology textbooks, Dr. Wayne Grudem quotes another theologian on this subject….

The doctrine of God’s immutability is of the highest significance for religion. The contrast between being and becoming marks the difference between the Creator and the creature. Every creature is continually becoming. It is changeable, constantly striving, seeks rest and satisfaction, and finds this rest in God, in him alone, for only he is pure being and no becoming. Hence, in Scripture God is often called the Rock.…

Grudem, W. A. (2004). Systematic theology: an introduction to biblical doctrine (p. 164). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House.

“Hence, in Scripture God is often called the Rock….”   Think about that truth.

What do we do when we have more questions than answers?  

What do we do when we have NO answers? 

WE STAND ON THE UNCHANGING ROCK OF OUR SALVATION AND TRUST HIM UNTIL THE WAY BECOMES MORE CLEAR.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Needed Changes I am Hopeful This Season will Bring

14 Apr

Let me be clear up front:  I am NOT happy this COVID-19 pandemic has happened. The suffering in terms of life, health, fear, and economic disruption has been enormous. I am not happy this has happened and my heart breaks to see the devastation all of this has caused.  I fully understand that quoting Romans 8:28 will not make everyone feel better, and I am very conscious not to minimize the pain many are experiencing.  No one would have chosen to have our country and world go through this season.

However, since we are in the middle of this season of the COVID-19 pandemic, I choose to be hopeful.  First and foremost, I am hopeful because my hope is in Christ and no circumstances can take that away.  I also choose to be hopeful rather than focusing on doom and gloom – plenty of that around!  Honestly, I believe that this terrible season of pandemic can be a catalyst for some needed changes for our nation, our families, and our churches.

OUR NATION

1.  I believe this season can make people more open to the gospel and the truth of Christ. Recently, I read that surveys are showing that Americans are praying much more lately.  Times like this make people search for hope and think about life and death. Hearts may very well be more open to the gospel of Christ than they have been in some time. While I do not personally believe that this pandemic will lead to “revival,” I do believe it could have a positive spiritual impact.

2.  I believe this season can reinforce the sanctity of every life. The driving reason for taking the measures we have taken to combat COVID-19 is because of the potential threat to life it represents for several vulnerable groups.  That is a positive thing.  America still values life and that has been reinforced.  Now, if someone would point out that the same nation willing to shut down its economy to save hundreds of thousands of lives is the same nation that aborts 800,000 babies each year and thinks that is OK.

OUR FAMILIES

1. I believe this season can help our families rethink priorities. So many families were so busy going from one activity to the next that they gave precious little thought to priorities and what mattered most.  Now, all of the activities that consumed so much time, energy, and money are canceled.  Many of those activities are GOOD and we can’t wait for them to start back.  However, it’s been good to be home and learn to treasure one another more.  It’s been good to be home and learn all over again that we don’t have to eat out to have a good meal or spend a lot of money to have fun.

2. I believe this season can help our families grow spiritually. All of a sudden, families are worshiping together every Sunday – not just the Sundays they are in town. All of sudden families are praying and doing Bible studies together.  As parents engage with their children in spiritual matters, we grow and mature in our own faith.

OUR CHURCHES

1. I believe this season will help our people treasure gathering on Sunday more. Some have expressed a fear that “doing online church” will further encourage people to stay at home and watch even when they again have the opportunity to come to worship on Sunday.  I choose to believe this season will have the opposite affect. This season of ONLY having online services available has already shown us what a poor, inadequate substitute they are for gathered worship.  May we never take the joy of gathering for worship for granted again.

2.  I believe this season will help our churches renew their focus on what matters most. We made the decision to cancel our March 15 services late in that week. By the time I gathered with our staff leaders on Monday, March 16 it was apparent we were in for an extended period of not meeting and we had to get a plan together.  In one day, we got back to the absolute basics and essentials of being the church.  Our focus immediately became BEING the church, not programs.  Our programs are canceled, but our church has continued. In some ways, Lakeside has even thrived during this pandemic.

3. I believe this season will help our churches focus less on personal preferences. No one is complaining about the music now.  They are so happy to have music as part of the online service. No one is worried about what people are wearing. No one is worried about “their pew” or “their” parking spot.  No one is worried about a hundred other petty things that church folks tend to worry about.  When we are able to gather in worship again, no one will be worried about those things either. Everyone will just be so glad to be able to gather again.  Let’s help it stay that way for a long while!

4. I believe this season will help our churches become more flexible and more effective.  In my personal opinion, even when our churches are able to meet again, it is likely there will still be restrictions on large gatherings – meaning that churches of several hundred and larger won’t be able to have everyone on campus at the same time. In addition, we don’t know how comfortable people will be in a full worship center or shoulder to shoulder in the room with their small group. Even when churches are able to meet again, it is likely that many will have to make significant adjustments for an extended period of time.  Many churches will step up and thrive during this time because the situation forces them to be flexible and think about people rather than programming.
 

An Easter without a Service is NOT an Easter without a Savior.

12 Apr

Lakeside2017        GardenTombexterior

Maybe the whirlwind of everything we have been dealing with surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic prevented it from fully hitting home with me.  In the last couple of days, it hit home.  Our church and almost all churches will not be meeting on Easter Sunday 2020. Yes, we will be having online worship and using technology to connect. Thank the Lord for that ability!  It’s been good to worship together as families in our living rooms and connect with our Sunday School classes over ZOOM.  However, as good as these are, they have served to reinforce to us all over again the beauty of actually gathering with the people of God on the Lord’s Day.  This week, my heart has ached in a fresh way to gather with the people of on the Lord’s Day.   How I long for the day when we can gather again.

It’s Easter Sunday, and we are not meeting at Lakeside.  At almost all churches, there is no Easter Sunday service to attend.  Many families have great traditions surrounding the Easter Sunday service. Many families attend the Easter service together at the same church each year. They make family pictures after the service and they gather with family and friends for a meal and fun.  Easter traditions abound for families. For a pastor, there is no Sunday like Easter Sunday.  Yes, the increased attendance is always nice, but most pastors love Easter Sunday for other reasons. It’s the one Sunday of the year when the entire focus of attention is on the resurrection of Christ.  The choir seems to sound even better on Easter Sunday.  The people are joyous. There are more people in the service who are new than any other service of the year.  The pastor studies longer, prays more in preparation.  Easter Sunday is special.  For the first time in my life, I will not be gathering on Easter Sunday with my church family. For many reading this blog, this will be the first Easter Sunday of your life when you will not gather with your church family.

However, an Easter without a service is NOT an Easter without a Savior.

Yesterday afternoon, my mind went to “the resurrection chapter”: 1 Corinthians 15.  This great chapter defines the gospel, shows the necessity of believing in Christ’s resurrection, and explains what His resurrection means to us.

“Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,” (1 Corinthians 15:1–4, NASB95)

There it is, the gospel defined in all of its simplicity and beauty.  Did you see what is at the heart of the gospel?  The resurrection of Jesus Christ.

“Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.” (1 Corinthians 15:12–18, NASB95)

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a linchpin of the Christian faith. No resurrection = no salvation.

If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:19, NASB95)

Without the hope of the resurrection, we have no hope to find in this life.

“But now Christ has been raised from the dead…” (1 Corinthians 15:20, NASB95)

Verse 20 is a transition statement. In the preceding verses, the Apostle Paul dealt with the hypothetical….”if Christ has not been raised.”   Now, in verse 20, he turns to the FACTUAL. The resurrection HAS happened.  Now Paul moves to bring to light the powerful truth of the salvation brought by our risen Savior.  Let the beauty of scripture speak us powerfully in these words….

“But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death. For HE HAS PUT ALL THINGS IN SUBJECTION UNDER HIS FEET. But when He says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him. When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.” (1 Corinthians 15:20–28, NASB95)

What incredible truth!!!  The resurrection of Christ HAPPENED.  We have a risen SAVIOR.  Absolutely NOTHING can take that reality away. No pandemic. No job situation. No sickness. No family pain.  No depression.  No set backs.  No persecution.  NOTHING.

Today, we are not having an Easter with a service like we are accustomed. 

We will NEVER have an Easter without a Savior. 

Think about it. Drink that truth deep into your soul today.  Look up.  Worship.

It’s Easter.