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In Daniel 2, Daniel and his three friends prayed together for God to intervene so they would be saved from a certain death. God answered their prayers.

I would like to give you a special invitation to pray together for revival and spiritual awakening in our nation.

A couple of months ago my mentor, Dr. Greg Mathis, invited me to participate in a day of prayer for revival. You can read about about the original plan for the Mountain Top Prayer Meeting here. The pandemic and shutdown orders have changed how this prayer meeting will take place.

Instead of meeting in a specific place for prayer, you are being invited to make time on Tuesday May 5 to pray for revival and awakening in our country.

This prayer time came from the heart of Fred Lunsford, a 95 year old preacher and prayer warrior whose ministry has been built on prayer. On numerous occasions, Fred has asked the Lord to let him go to heaven. God’s response, “Fred, you are still here because I want you to pray.” Fred’s passion for prayer has inspired hundreds of others to pray for God to move in our country. You can read about the invitation from Mud Creek Baptist Church here. You can read the invitation from Milton Hollifield, the Executive Director-Treasurer for the Baptist State Convention of NC here.

During the sermon on April 19, I invited our listeners to commit Tuesday May 5 to prayer and fasting. More than 100 individuals associated with Wilkesboro Baptist have already committed to pray. As of the time I’m writing this, more than 60,000 people across our nation have committed to pray!

Thousands of believers all over our country will be praying at 10 am on Tuesday May 5. If you are able, would you give at least an hour to prayer at 10 am? If your job or responsibilities make the 10 am time untenable, would you commit an hour at another time during the day to prayer? Oftentimes fasting and prayer are connected. By fasting on May 5 you are acknowledging your complete dependence upon God. Would you consider fasting as well and giving even more than an hour in prayer?

You can reply in the comments of this blog or on the social media platform you read this from that you are going to pray with others for revival and awakening in our land. 

Revival is for God’s people. Praying for revival is praying that God will bring his followers to repentance, surrender, and holiness.

Spiritual awakening is for unbelievers. Praying for spiritual awakening is praying that God will open blinded eyes, soften hard hearts, and bring sinners to salvation.

Here are some specific ways you can pray for revival and awakening: 

  • Father, you are holy. Would you help me to bow before you as King and Lord? 
  • Father, I am in need of revival. Would you show me my own sins? Help me confess and repent. 
  • Father, your people need revival. We need to have a renewed vision of your holiness, a renewed pursuit of your glory, and a renewed surrender to your will. Will you bring your followers all across our world to a place of surrender and repentance? Would you send us revival? 
  • Father, our land is hurting from a pandemic. Would you intervene in this pandemic by healing the sick, providing treatments and vaccines, and granting strength to those who are caring for the sick? 
  • Father, would you use the disruption caused by this pandemic to bring us back to you?
  • Father, many millions in our nation and billions in the world are dead in their sins. As bad as this pandemic is physically, our sin is far more terrible spiritually. Would you reveal your holiness and love through Jesus Christ and bring a spiritual awakening to sinners all over the world?
  • Father, would you give wisdom to our government officials (local, state, and national) that they might make the best decisions for the health and prosperity of our communities, states, and nation? 
  • Father, would you continue to bless our churches with wisdom, provision, and spiritual growth through the midst of these trying days? 

You don’t have to wait until May 5 to begin praying. Let’s seek God together for revival and spiritual awakening.

Photo by Amaury Gutierrez on Unsplash

To replicate means “to make a copy of; to reproduce.” When used in the context of the Christian mission, replication carries with it the expectation of making disciples.

This is the fourth and final article in a series about the habits of spiritually healthy pastors. In the previous articles, I addressed the worship habitslearning habits, and serving habits of spiritually healthy pastors.

When we worship, learn, serve, and replicate, we embrace the mission of Christ to become his followers in action and attitude. 

While worshiping, learning, and serving should be personal habits and community experiences, we must guard against them becoming merely church activities. We have plenty of church activities. 

What we need more than activity is to make sure we’re replicating the life of Jesus into another person. The following three habits build discipleship into our daily decision-making. 

HABIT #1: SHARE THE GOSPEL PERSONALLY. 

No doubt, most of us share the gospel regularly in our preaching. We must do this. In fact, during these days of streaming church services, we may be communicating the gospel to more people than would ever visit our church. 

But public preaching doesn’t take the place of personal witnessing. Paul instructed Timothy, “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Timothy 4:5). Personal evangelism is work, but it’s a necessary habit for the pastor/church leader. 

Opportunities and relationships are the keys to sharing the gospel regularly. As pastors, we need to create opportunities for witnessing by getting into our communities and around unbelievers. 

Volunteering at local ministries and non-profits, coaching a kids’ sports team, and contacting visitors to your church will provide numerous opportunities for sharing the gospel. 

When those opportunities arise, we must be willing to engage the work of building relationships and continuing gospel conversations. 

A husband and wife who became followers of Jesus last year in our community did so after several years of relationship and numerous gospel conversations. 

These days of social distancing provide obstacles to face-to-face witnessing, but also many opportunities. 

In just the last three weeks, I’ve had several gospel conversations with those in and around my church who needed counseling, support, and ministry. 

Simply put, we as pastors need to look to include the gospel in as many conversations as we can. 

HABIT #2: INVOLVE OTHERS IN YOUR MISSION CONSISTENTLY. 

In Acts 11:25-26, Barnabas sought out Saul (the Apostle Paul) and brought him to Antioch to help him teach the young church there. Barnabas realized the job in front of him was bigger than he could handle on his own. 

We need to be big enough to admit we’re not big enough on our own. For us to fulfill the mandate of making disciples, we can’t go at it alone. 

Whether we have a church staff or we’re the entire staff, we must engage in the regular habit of involving others in our ministries. 

None of us are irreplaceable, and none of us are permanent. 

By involving others in our mission and ministries, we can replicate the life of Jesus and the ministry of the church in the lives of others who’ll carry on making disciples even when we’re no longer around. 

Practically, this means sharing responsibilities and inviting people to do ministry alongside you. 

HABIT #3: EQUIP OTHERS TO SUCCEED YOU SIGNIFICANTLY. 

Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:19-20 is to make disciples. He expected His followers to lead others to follow Him. 

Jesus’ method of disciple-making wasn’t large events. It wasn’t come and see worship experiences. It wasn’t seminars and leadership conferences. It wasn’t even miracles. 

Jesus’ method was the training of the apostles who’d preach and teach the gospel and disciple others. 

Friends, we’re the product of Jesus’ method. Jesus spent only three years in personal ministry but has had an impact for 2,000 years through His disciples. 

The beauty of Jesus’ method is that it’s reproducible. There’s coming a day when you won’t be the pastor, staff member, or disciple-maker at your church. Have you prepared for someone to succeed you? 

Even if you don’t train your successor per se, when we equip and disciple others, we embrace Jesus’ method. 

If you know of ways pastors and churches are embracing the challenges of social distancing and continuing to make disciples, I’d love to hear about them.

Originally published at here Lifeway Facts and Trends.

Easter 2020 was different, but have you ever wondered why it is that we celebrate Easter at all?

Do you realize as Christians we revere the execution of our Savior? We celebrate because our God died. Jesus gave up his life on a Roman cross because of the hatred of Jewish religious leaders for the sins of the entire world. But Jesus’ death was not the end. Had not the resurrection occurred, Jesus would have been just another criminal executed under the rule of the Roman Empire. Why is Christianity different?

Christianity is different because of the resurrection. That Jesus rose from the grave after being dead is the tenet of Christian faith. Had not the resurrection happened then I must agree with the apostle Paul that Christianity would be a miserable religion (1 Corinthians 15:19).

Of course we must take the story of the risen Christ on faith, but our faith does not have to be irrational or without evidence. In fact, I believe the resurrection is one of the best attested events in human history. In the following paragraphs, I’m going to share with you some of the main reasons why I believe Jesus rose from the dead. In my theology and apologetics classes, I’ve shared these reasons as evidences for the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Why should you know these reasons we can believe in the resurrection?. First, I want you to have confidence that the historical, physical resurrection of Jesus took place. These reasons will build your faith and confidence in God’s Word. Second, I want you to be prepared to share the truth of the gospel confidently, particularly with regard to the story of the resurrection. You might know someone who isn’t sure about Christianity. Maybe you have a friend who shared some reasons why the resurrection can’t possibly be true. Or maybe your friend is looking for some good reasons to believe in the resurrection.

In any case, here are some of the best reasons we can believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

  1. The resurrection best accounts for the empty tomb. Even the religious leaders in Jesus’ own day acknowledged the empty tomb. Remember, they came up with the suggestion that the disciples stole the body of Jesus in the night (Matthew 28:13). An empty tomb suggests that the body of Jesus was not accounted for in his own day.
  2. The body of Jesus has never been accounted for. There are really only a couple of options regarding Jesus’ body. He was buried in a public tomb. His followers and the religious leaders knew where he was, so it is not like Jesus body remains buried somewhere to be discovered by someone else. The religious leaders would not have taken the body. They were responsible for Jesus’ death. They would have wanted to destroy Christianity before it began. They would have produced the body if they could have.
  3. If the disciples took the body, then that means they died for a hoax. A theory that goes all the way back to the New Testament is that the disciples took Jesus’ body and perpetrated the resurrection as a hoax. Not only would this make Christianity the greatest hoax in history, but it does’t square with the historical evidence of Jesus’ followers. The apostles all died as martyrs following lives of preaching the resurrected Christ. Would they have all really gone to their graves for a lie that they perpetrated?
  4. The first witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus were not legally able to testify in court. One of the critiques against the veracity of the Gospel accounts is that they were legends that developed over years far removed from the actual events. This would mean that the Gospel writers put their accounts together for theological purposes with the singular aim of convincing readers of their version of Christ. But all of the Gospel accounts identify women as the first witnesses to the resurrection. This makes little sense if the Gospel writers were trying to convince their readers in the court of public opinion. Women could not serve as witnesses in a court of law. In that case, why would the Gospel writers include them in the story? The only reason for including the women in the story is that they were the first witnesses to the resurrection. This is an incidental detail that lends great credibility to the resurrection account.
  5. The drastic change in the disciples validates the resurrection story. At the end of Jesus’ crucifixion, the disciples cowered in fear in a locked room. They abandoned Jesus after his arrest. They were afraid. Yet in the book of Acts, they were different. The disciples boldly proclaimed Christ in front of the Jewish religious leaders. Even a persecutor named Paul met the risen Christ in a vision and proclaimed the good news in front of kings and emperors. These men didn’t become rich or powerful. They did not live in luxury. Pain, persecution, and death awaited them. Yet, they embraced their sufferings because they genuinely believed the message they proclaimed: that Jesus rose from the dead.
  6. The rise of Christianity is a powerful witness to the resurrection. Two thousand years later Christianity has more than two billion adherents on earth. People from all walks of life, nationalities, languages, and ideologies have become followers of Jesus. Men and women and boys and girls from all over the world believe that Jesus rose from the dead. More importantly, they have been changed by the Christ they believe in.

You may remain unconvinced of the reality of the resurrection. Sure, there have been other arguments against the resurrection throughout history. And there are other arguments for the resurrection. But here is my concluding thought in this post. The historical, physical resurrection of Jesus Christ is the best explanation for the evidence we do have. If you are a skeptic or unbeliever, then I challenge you to provide credible answers to the evidences we do have.

  • Why is there an empty tomb?
  • Where is the body of Jesus?
  • Why would the disciples die for a hoax?
  • Why would the Gospel writers include women as the first witnesses?
  • What changed the disciples from fear to faith?
  • What explanation exists for the rise of Christianity?

In my opinion, there remains no better answer to these questions than the fact that Jesus rose from the dead as testified in the New Testament. It is the best explanation for the evidence we have.

Photo by Hugo Fergusson on Unsplash

Easter is the high mark of the Christian calendar. Yes, we have Christmas and its celebration. But Christ’s advent has been shaped by commercialization and media. Even so, it is Christ’s entrance into the world. Christmas is special for the believer, but it is not ultimate. Jesus did not come to the world to live as a baby or as a child. Christmas matters because Easter happened.

Holy Week is our opportunity to reflect on Jesus’ passion and resurrection. Much of the gospel accounts are given to the last week of Jesus (1/3 of Matthew, 1/3 of Mark, ¼ of Luke, and 2/5 or nearly half of John). The last week of Jesus’ life emphasized his conflict with the religious leaders setting up the final act of his life. In this last week, Jesus predicted his future and taught his disciples. He invited them to witness something glorious and eternal. 

We cannot overstate Holy Week’s importance to Christianity. It is the culmination and fulfillment of the salvation we so loudly proclaim.

But this year it feels different. This year it is different. Holy Week 2020 does not feel holy. Many believers across our world will not gather in their churches. They will not dress up in their Easter outfits. They will not celebrate the season with Easter egg hunts, pastel colors, and decorative hats. Because many churches won’t gather, Easter musicals and cantatas will be cancelled or postponed. Easter sermons will take on a different tone. The high attendance day of the gathered church in the West will not be. This year, many of us will celebrate Easter in quarantine and during stay at home orders.

Holy Week does not feel holy. This year it does not feel like a celebration. It feels more like a separation.

We are tense—cooped up in our homes unable to visit, travel, go to school, or even work as normal. We are confused—frustrated at what we’re experiencing. We are afraid—uncertain if we will get sick, if we do, what will happen, and if we can recover from the challenges facing us. We are worried—anxious about tomorrow.

In truth, for many of us, Holy week 2020 may actually be more like the first Holy Week. 

The disciples could sense the tension. For years it had been building between the Jewish religious leaders and their Master, Jesus. Time after time they had questioned him, attacked him, and baited him. With ingenious wit and gracious words, Jesus always managed to silence his critics. This did little but anger them further. 

Upon Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem mere days before the Passover, the disciples could feel the tension.  Jewish lawyers, Pharisees, and other religious leaders saw this as the opportune time. They arrived with questions designed to trap Jesus in blasphemous statements. Yet as before, they were thwarted and left dumfounded. 

The tension of Passover week elevated at that fateful supper. The Lord’s table that he instituted the night before his trial and the day before his death. Judas was sent on his mission of betrayal. Peter’s denial was foretold. And the party left for a time of prayer. Jesus prayed while his followers slept.

The tension in the garden grew significantly with Jesus’ arrest. Led before the Sanhedrin, Pilate, and Herod, Jesus faced mock trials that culminated in his crucifixion outside of Jerusalem. During this part of Holy Week, the disciples scattered in fear, doubt, and confusion. 

The tension became passion when Jesus was beaten, crucified, and unjustly punished on Calvary’s cross. Jesus suffered unlike any man before. Not only did he face the physical brutality of Roman execution, but Jesus carried in his body the curse of God for human sin. Jesus became sin, that we might know God and experience salvation. 

 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:21

The tension on Calvary became death in a borrowed tomb. Any hope the disciples had that Jesus would come down from the cross and fulfill their vision as a political Messiah, was finished when Jesus’ dead body was removed from the cross and buried. 

The tension of his followers became confusion. How could One who had done so many miraculous things not keep himself from suffering like this? The confusion led to fear. If they would do these things to Jesus, which ones of us are next? The fear led to worry and uncertainty. What will we do now? Jesus was our life for three years. What next? Will where we go? What will we do? 

No, the first Holy Week did not feel holy. The first Holy Week did not feel like victory. The first Holy Week did not feel like a celebration. The first Holy Week did not culminate in fancy hats, pastel colors, musicals, cantatas, egg hunts, desserts, and celebrations. The first Holy Week concluded with an event at first confusing and ultimately more important than any other even ever to take place on planet earth. 

But at the end of Holy Week was a resurrection.

While our situations may cause us to feel isolated and separated this Easter, we can and must still celebrate. Here are some ways you can make this Easter special and unforgettable in your Christian faith.

IMAGINE how Jesus’ followers felt during Jesus’ passion week. Remember how it was during Holy Week for those who first experienced it. But also remember, they met the Risen Lord. Everything changed for them when they saw the resurrected Christ. Everything changed for us when we met Jesus, Jesus who is alive and not dead.

REFLECT on the universal and personal importance of Jesus’ death and resurrection. It was for you he died. Your sins are the reason Christ went to the cross. The sins of the world are the reason Christ died and went to the cross. It was for you that Christ rose from the dead. It was for the nations that Christ rose from the dead. We are right to individualize our salvation experience, but we must do so in light of the billions of other individuals who need salvation.

PAUSE all other distractions to make time to worship Jesus. That first Easter gathering behind locked doors with fearful disciples did not feel holy or full of celebration. But when Jesus entered everything changed. You may be celebrating Easter by yourself, with a spouse, or with your children. You may not be with your church family (in person). But you are not alone. Jesus is with you. He is ever present and you can worship him as you celebrate his resurrection.

JOIN other believers (your church) through streaming, radio, or television. While we may not by in the same rooms physically, we can still celebrate together. Here are some links to celebrate Easter with Wilkesboro Baptist Church. You can join us for worship through Facebook, Vimeo, or YouTube. If you attend another church, make sure you join them in whatever capacity you are able to worship.

ANTICIPATE gathering with fellow believers again. While our normal may be different after Covid-19, we will one day gather again to worship Christ. As for my church, we will create our own Easter Sunday celebration when we are able to gather again as a church family. Let the distance and separation created by our circumstances motivate you to participate in worship when we are able to gather again.

REMEMBER that Jesus’ resurrection defeated death. Everyone of us will face death. I’m heartbroken for those church members who have lost loved ones recently and have not been able to have memorials and funerals. I’m heartbroken for the thousands of families and friends who have lost someone to Covid-19. But we don’t have to grieve, worry, or dread like those without hope. Jesus died, was buried, and rose from the dead. Jesus is victorious over death. Death holds no power over the believer for Jesus holds power over death. This is the hope of Easter. And this is truly why Easter is Holy, no matter what it feels like.

Photo by Bruno van der Kraan on Unsplash

Last week’s devotional focused on how to deal with isolation. While we are all facing the challenges of social distancing, there is another challenge that is facing many of us: learning to view work biblically during social distancing and stay at home orders.

There are a variety of challenges facing many of us:

  • Some have jobs that are greatly affected by the bans and social distancing (teachers having to create distance learning plans, for example).
  • Some have jobs that ,are not affected directly by the bans and social distancing (essential jobs or jobs that are primarily isolated).
  • Some have jobs that have have not changed drastically in function, but have changed drastically in location (working from home rather and working remotely rather than with employees in an office).
  • Some jobs have either been lost or have had their hours cut drastically.
  • Some jobs have changed in intensity and practice overnight (first responders, nurses and doctors, local, state, and national government, pastors, and counselors).
  • Some parents are now teaching their children at home while dealing with the affects of losing a job (or hours) or trying to manage distance learning and work from home.

I’m not writing this post from the place of an expert. Rather, I’m a fellow traveler on this challenging journey. In the past couple of weeks, my wife and I have had numerous conversations about many of these challenges. We’re dealing with reduced income, distance learning from home for our children, planning a schedule of working from home and the office, and attempting to balance work, family, and school while being in the same house nearly all the time.

While the Bible does not offer a one size fits all approach to every work scenario outlined below, it does offer some principles to guide us. My hope is that the timeless principles of Scripture will shape our perspective on work during these challenging times.

  1. God ordained work before the fall. Look back at Genesis 1:28. Adam and Eve had responsibility for creation (the Cultural Mandate) before they sinned in Genesis 3. God worked for 6 days (Creation) and rested for the seventh day. Work is something good that’s been given to us by God. This principle reminds us that work is a means by which to glorify God.
  2. Biblically, work is not a place to which we go, it is something we do. Not to get too historical, but the Industrial Revolution shifted our concept of work. Until then, many families shared their work responsibilities in a trade. As a result, moms and dads shared the schooling of children, work around the house (farm in some cases), and the trade. It was not until after the Industrial Revolution and really even into the 20th century that going to work (especially for men) became commonplace. This principle has immense implications. See principles 3 and 4.
  3. Work in all of its aspects can be a means of glorifying God (see the wise woman in Proverbs 31). Running a business is not more God-honoring than folding laundry. Teaching children in home education or distance learning is not necessarily less valuable than the work of a lawyer or public official. We incorrectly associate income level or public prestige as a validation of one’s work. Consider that for most of the world, throughout most of history, paychecks have not been the norm. Work consisted of growing crops, raising animals, bartering for items, or trading for a service. While it has always been the case that certain jobs, trades, or careers provided opportunity for more publicity or income, God does not see us through those lenses. They are culturally constructed lenses. This means that doing laundry, cooking dinner, cleaning the garage, mowing the grass, closing a deal, writing a sermon, calling a friend, caring for a family member, reading with a child, teaching a lesson, managing a staff, making a sell (I could go on, but you get the idea), are all means by which we can glorify God.
  4. Whenever you work and whatever you do, you should seek to honor Christ (see Colossians 3:17). Whether you work remotely, have always worked at home, or your job completely changed, embrace whatever job is in front of you today to honor Christ.
  5. Significance, not productivity should define your perspective in all types of work. You might be feeling guilty that you are not able to work as productively by working remotely. You shouldn’t. Productivity tips generally rely on normal, controlled environments. For many of us, our environments are anything but normal. However, we should look for ways to make all of our work significant and meaningful. We should look for ways to be productive and faithful. Yet, we should keep a healthy perspective. While your work output is likely to change, you can still be faithful and significant with what is in front of you.
  6. If (out of necessity) you find yourself working more than normal, remember to find your rest and strength in Christ. Some will be working overtime to manage the challenges of this pandemic (medical personnel, first responders, public officials, etc.). Strength for today and rest for tonight come through Christ. Remember, God rested at the end of the six days of creation. It is easy for the changes in your work environment or the responsibilities in front of you to overwhelm you. Rely on Christ. He is your strength, and he is your rest.
  7. Finally, find your significance in Christ. You cannot look for your significance in your job (or any other work for that matter). If you’ve been laid off, furloughed, closed your business, or shortened your hours, you need to know that God does not perceive you as a failure. Looking at yourself or others through this lends is culturally conditioned. Remember, Christ alone is your significance.

I trust these principles will encourage you. Whatever challenge your facing, know that God loves you and promises to be with you always (Mt. 28:20).

Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

Originally published as an op-ed here for the Wilkes Journal-Patriot.

Stay at home orders. Social distancing. MerleFest cancelled. Social gatherings banned. Schools and businesses closed. Church meetings cancelled.

The last few weeks have certainly been eventful. Our current experiences cause concern. Our anticipated experiences in the days, weeks and months ahead could cause fear and anxiety.

COVID-19 has arrived in Wilkes, but how many will be infected? How long will it take before the economy recovers? Will the economy recover? Will our lives ever go back to normal?

These questions permeate our thoughts. As a pastor, I feel it is my duty to have answers and bring hope. But let me offer a confession.

I’ve had plenty of moments in the last several weeks where I’ve felt a mixture of uncertainty, fear, and worry. I don’t offer my perspective from a place where I’ve conquered my anxieties but from a platform of hope and peace.

Solomon, Israel’s wisest king, wrote nearly 3,000 years ago, “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad” (Proverbs 12:25). Solomon’s words could not be more prescient today.

Government bans, the panic-inducing news over COVID-19, and subsequent worries breed anxiety, often at a more exponential rate than the virus itself.

Fear and anxiety are enemies that weigh us down. When we are weighed down, we are more likely to live in fear, become depressed, or wallow in negativity. Like Solomon’s original readers, we need a good word. Let me offer three good words that might help make us glad.

Perspective. While these days are certainly unique, they are not universally unprecedented. Humanity has already overcome the bubonic plague outbreaks of the Middle Ages, the Spanish flu of 1918, world wars, and countless natural disasters. This pandemic will pass.

We need to evaluate our perspective. Instead of seeing our situation through the lens of all we are missing, we need to see it through the lens of all we are gaining.

Many of us have been too busy, too frazzled, and too distant from those closest to us. The next month (or longer) will afford us time to pause, rest, pray, and make the most of the days with our families. There may be a lot we will miss during this ban, but we will never forget the time we have with those closest to us.

Connection. People in my church tell me nearly every day how much they miss gathering together. God made us social beings who need each other.

Many of you are missing your normal social interactions. I am as well. But the lack of being in the same space need not keep us from connecting to one another.

Social media, text messaging, phone calls, FaceTime, Skype, emails, notes, and media like the Wilkes Journal-Patriot are all means by which we can connect with others. Make an extra phone call. Send another text message. Facetime a friend or family member. Find ways to connect with other people.

Our connections during isolated days will make our face to face connections that much more meaningful when these days are over.

Gospel. Solomon used the phrase “good word.” In the New Testament the good news is the gospel. The good news that the Bible offers is predicated on some bad news.

The bad news is that we live in a fallen, sinful world. This is one reason why viruses, pandemics, and natural disasters happen. But more importantly, the Bible teaches us that we are sinners. Sin is anything less than what God desires.

Our sin is the bad news, but the good news is that God sent Jesus to die for our sins to offer us forgiveness and eternal life. While our current situation is uncertain, our future does not have to be. The forgiveness offered through Jesus cleanses our sin, eases our anxiety, and offers us eternal life.

My hope and prayer through all of this uncertainty is that these good words: perspective, connection, gospel, will bring us gladness, now and forever.

Photo by Edwin Andrade on Unsplash

Governor Cooper issued a stay at home order on Friday for the state of North Carolina through the end of April. Social distancing and isolation are real. I realize that many of us will still be working. I also realize that many who remain at home are responsible for children or aging parents. But all of us will be affected by these bans.

We can no longer join friends or spouses for lunch at a favorite restaurant. We can no longer meet with our children’s friends for playdates. We can no longer meet together for worship services at our local churches. I could go on, but you are very well aware of these isolating circumstances.

I’m not here to debate the validity of the isolation, nor am I going to bemoan the difficulty of it. Rather, I would simply like to point out that God has used isolation as a tool for spiritual development for thousands of years. How can you be sure that God uses this situation in your life as a means of growth and development?

Here’s a short list of the ways God worked through people in the Bible while they were in places of isolation:

  • In the isolation of prison, God helped Joseph overcome bitterness and pride in preparing him to rescue his family from the famine.
  • In the isolation of the wilderness, God developed the heart and patience Moses would need to lead Israel during the exodus and their wilderness wanderings.
  • In the isolation of shepherding, God taught David the importance of worship and knowing the Good Shepherd.
  • In the isolation of famine, God taught Elijah his need to trust God for his daily needs.
  • In the isolation of captivity, God taught Daniel and his three friends the power of prayer and keeping the faith.

This is just a sampling. Throughout Scripture, God used isolating circumstances to get the spiritual attention of his people. Maybe he’s doing that with you and me today.

I reached out to some folks this past week with the question, “How are you managing your isolation?” I received a litany of responses. Here are some of the things people are doing to manage their isolating circumstances: housework, yard-work, serving family and neighbors, FaceTime with kids and grandkids, reading, writing, cooking, gardening, making art, playing music, studying, watching streamed worship services, writing down and sharing inspirational thoughts, walking, praying, exercising, making face-masks for hospitals, spending time with family, playing games, doing puzzles, extra devotional time, and schoolwork. These responses were great! Many of these activities provide natural stress relief. They help us deal with isolation while keeping us from desolation.

What can we take away from biblical examples and comments above to grow during this time of isolation? Here are several recommendation:

  • Set aside time each day to unplug and be quiet. It is tempting to constantly search for the latest COVID-19 update or binge watch tv. And these things aren’t necessarily wrong. But we will grow in the quiet with God. To be quiet and unplug for a period of time each day might require some aid from a spouse. Don’t be afraid to ask for some time alone.
  • Read the Bible and pray. Often, my time to unplug and be quiet is my time for prayer and Bible reading. They go together. Make sure you are reading the timeless and universal truths of Scripture and communicating to the only One who is sovereign.
  • Connect with others through communication. That we are socially distant and isolated does not mean that we cannot have any social interaction. Make time daily to talk to those in your life who matter most (parents, children, grandchildren). Call a neighbor. Text an acquaintance. Message someone you know. I’ve reached out to dozens of people in various ways in the last several weeks. My aim was to encourage them, but I’ve come away from nearly every conversation encouraged myself.
  • Find some good activities to relieve stress. The things people are doing to manage isolation are great. See the excellent list above provided by some of my friends. While all of these may not work for you, I would encourage you to find one (or several) that you can put into practice. Not only are these activities likely to reduce your stress, they can be God’s means for personal growth and development over the next weeks.

This time of isolation does not have to lead to desolation. It can lead to spiritual fruit in your life. By embracing the positives and opportunities of this situation, God can use these days to bring us closer to him. That in itself would be worth the isolation.

If you are in need of prayer or conversation, feel free to reach out. I’m happy and available to pray for you or chat with you. Message me through the social media platform that directed you to this blog or comment below.

Photo by Claudel Rheault on Unsplash