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This article was first published before the COVID-19 pandemic affected the US. Pastors, if you are reading this and serving your congregation faithfully in these unique times, then let me commend you! I think our service to the church in the coming days/weeks must be more prayerful and focus on communication. Church members, if you are reading this, know that your pastor is under a unique set of pressures as he tries to serve you and the church through this. Pray for him. Pray for your church. Find ways to serve. If you are able continue giving to your church during this time. One of the challenges he will face in these days is the pressure of finances. It is unavoidable.

At first glance, you might think this is a no-brainer article for pastors and church leaders. Of course, pastors serve. Isn’t that our job?

But there’s a difference between the outward actions of serving and the inward spirit of a servant. Christ desires not only that we serve His church, but that we have His mind and put others first.

In previous articles, I addressed the worship habits and learning habits of spiritually healthy pastors. These traits, coupled with a habit of serving others, allows us to embrace the mission of Christ to become His followers in action and attitude.

HABIT #1—USE TIME AND TALENTS TO REGULARLY PUT OTHERS FIRST. 

Most of us who have a ministry career get the concept of service. The word minister means “to serve.” Our gifts, abilities, calling, and responsibilities are service-oriented. 

To preach is to serve the church in teaching and prayer ministry (Acts 6:4). The habit I’m suggesting here, however, isn’t always outwardly visible. 

As pastors, we should have a motivation to serve that goes beyond being noticed by others. Visiting a sick church member, caring for a family during a funeral, or preaching each week are visible ministries.

Serving with our talents and gifts are vital, but what about when no one sees us? Do we serve with our time in these moments? Do we have the character of a servant? 

For example, if you’re married and have kids, do you serve your family by helping out around the house, guiding your children in their chores, and taking the lead when discipline is required?

Do you serve others in your community and church when no one else sees? To have the mind of Christ is to put others first and serve regularly. 

Compare your heart and serving habits to Mark 10:45 and Philippians 2:4-8. We’re called to not just look like servants, but to be servants. 

HABIT #2—CONSISTENTLY PROTECT THE UNITY OF THE CHURCH.

Difficult deacons, selfish church members, and churches that run off pastors all have a bad reputation.

But unfortunately, as often as I hear about another church that’s run off a pastor, I hear about a pastor who’s left a church in shambles. 

Without the character of a servant, the patience of a shepherd, and the wisdom of Christ, it can become easy for pastors to conclude they’re the ones in charge. Not true. 

Christ alone is Lord of His church. The pastor is to shepherd, oversee, feed, and guide the church, but not rule the church.

Pastors who appear to serve out of ego affirmation aren’t protecting the unity of the church. Pastors who rule like dictators aren’t protecting the unity of the church. Pastors who unwisely stir up unnecessary conflict aren’t protecting the unity of the church.

If you have the role to lead a church, you need the character to match it—a heart that serves and a desire to help the church grow in spiritual health and unity. 

HABIT #3—CONNECT WITH MISSION PARTNERS AND COMMUNITY ORGANIZATIONS. 

If churches must get outside their walls to minister to the community, so should pastors.

Most pastors and church leaders have enough going on inside the church to keep them busy for weeks if not much longer. Our congregations wouldn’t be disappointed to have our time, attention, and effort focused on them.

Of course, ministry to our church through preaching, shepherding, and leading is of primary importance. But if we expect our congregation to serve faithfully in the community and the world through mission and organizational partnerships, then we must lead by example. 

Find a local mission organization where you can serve regularly (maybe with your small group or another group in the church), as well as a national or international mission partner with whom you can participate in mission service outside your local context.

Serving outside your church opens the door for evangelism, models service to your church, and reflects the example of Christ.

Originally published here at LifeWay Facts and Trends.

Photo by Jeremy Yap on Unsplash

Today begins a devotional series that I will post during these days of social distancing. My aim is to reflect on a few thoughts and draw our attention to Scripture. At the conclusion, I will leave you with some applications as well as questions for reflection.

Are we really living in unprecedented times? The world in 2020 has never been more connected globally through travel and technology. The world in 2020 contains billions more people than at any other time in history with regard to international disasters. So, in one sense COVID-19 and its implications for public health, social contact, and the global economy are unprecedented. But, are we really living in unprecedented times? The answer is a qualified yes.

Throughout world history, wars have devastated continents. Diseases have ravished nations. Consider the Spanish flu of 1918 that killed more than 50 million people worldwide. Or consider the Bubonic plague of the Middle Ages that decimated the population of Europe. Or look back to biblical history. Consider the flood from Genesis 6-9. Or look at the millions of Hebrews wandering through the wilderness for 40 years. Or explore the survival of the ancients through famine and hunger. The human race has been through things similar to this and come through them.

If we look at the flood as analogous to our current situation, you might wonder if this coronavirus pandemic is God’s judgment. Let me offer another qualified yes. We can interpret what God says, but cannot presume to read God’s mind. The Genesis flood was judgment. God said it was. God has not spoken in that way regarding the coronavirus. However, here is the qualification. Because we live in a fallen world, creation itself is under the curse of sin.

19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.

Romans 8:19-21

Disease, suffering, illness, pain, difficulty, depression, war, violence, hunger, famine, catastrophic weather, and the like are reflections of the fallen, sinful world in which we live. Had Adam and Eve not sin, creation would have remained unblemished, and humanity would know none of these things. Yet they exist, because sin exists. Thus, the coronavirus is, at least in a generalized sense, an aspect of God’s judgment on a sinful world.

So where does that leave us as we cope with the interruptions, fears, and separation caused by this pandemic?

Let me offer a few specific applications drawn from Noah’s story.

  • Walk with God. God considered Noah blameless. This means Noah lived a life of humble confession and willing obedience. Take the time you’ve been given during this pandemic and develop your relationship with God. Read the Bible. Pray. Journal. Lead in family devotions. You can begin with Genesis 6-9 if you’d like and answer the reflection questions below.
  • Reflect on God’s holiness. God judged the world with the flood because the world was increasingly wicked and idolatrous. Was God’s judgment here vindictive, mean, extreme? I don’t believe so. God’s judgment teaches us that God is more holy than we can ever imagine. We like to think of God as love, and he is love. But we must remember that he is holy, supremely holy, gloriously holy.
  • Make sure you are on the ark. This sounds a bit weird, but track with me. Noah and his family were protected on the ark. While God does not promise us protection from contracting the coronavirus, nor does he promise to keep us from dying if we do, God does promise eternal life. Being under God’s protection means being in Christ. Do you have assurance of eternal life? If not, read the letter of 1 John. It’s a letter all about knowing that you know Christ. You can message me on this blog or through the social media platform I posted it on. I’d be happy to chat with you about eternal life.
  • Be faithful. It took Noah years to build the ark. He faithfully obeyed because he trusted God. I’m not sure what the next few weeks look like for all of us. But wherever God has put you, be faithful. Your faithfulness might be the courage or gospel witness someone else needs.

I would recommend reading Genesis 6-9 sometime today or this week. Then take some time and reflect on the following questions. I’ve been journaling through this experience. Journaling your answers might just be a way to build your faith during this unique time.

  • How do you think Noah felt when God told him to build the ark?
  • What kind of answers do you think Noah gave when people asked him what he was doing?
  • Describe how it would feel to have your entire family participate with you in a mission like building an ark?
  • Noah spent years building the ark, 40 days on the ark during the rain and flood, and then more than a year on the ark afterward. Do you think his experiences were always pleasant?
  • Imagine some of the sights, sounds, and smells during Noah’s time on the ark?
  • Put yourself in the place of at least one family member. Consider how they might have reacted, spoken, or what they must have been thinking. Journal the thoughts you think they might have had.
  • What kind of things do you think Noah and his family were anticipating at the conclusion of their trip on the ark?
  • How difficult would those final weeks have been with the ark resting on land, but not being able to exit?
  • Imagine their worship and sacrifice when they finally left the ark?
  • What kind of things will you thank God for during this experience and after this experience is over?

I have felt more emotions in the last week than at any other time in my life. The speed with which the world has shifted regarding the COVID-19 pandemic is mind-boggling.

I have felt fear, frustration, and exhaustion. Almost all of the time during the past week, I’ve felt overwhelmed. Rarely is anyone prepared for life to change so fast for so many with innumerable ramifications. And this is only the first true week (of what will be many more) of response and recovery.

I don’t share this for your pity, because I know that I’m not alone. I share simply out of honesty. It does no good for any of us to put on a mask or pretend to be strong when we are struggling.

Situations like we are facing today remind us how truly inadequate we are. One thing that has been immensely helpful for me in the last week or so has been my journal. I can write my prayers and thoughts before God and know that he hears.

Let me share with you 5 personal responses I wrote down in my journal the other day. They’ve helped me, and I hope they might help you process what we’re going through.

  1. Prioritize my information sources. If you’re anything like me, you’ve been reading and watching the news all the time trying to figure out what’s changing next. If we’re not careful though, our attentiveness to the news will lead to discouragement or worse. I’m not suggesting that you ignore the news either. Rather, make sure that you prioritize the timeless over the temporal. Read God’s Word. Let the assurances and promises and hope of the Bible give you calmness and confidence.
  2. Embrace my lifestyle changes as opportunities. There are no shortages of challenges, frustrations, and discouragements during these unprecedented days. There is much we cannot do, and there are places we cannot go. Instead of looking at all the negatives, embrace the changes as opportunities. We have the opportunity to pause, rest, pray, listen, and slow down. Spend time with your family. Enjoy a game together. Take a walk or a hike. Have long conversations. Read a book. Spend time with God. These moments of pause in the swirl of chaos are a blessing to embrace as much as they are a difficulty to manage.
  3. Accept that I cannot change reality. Read the next statement out loud, “I am not in control.” If the last week does nothing else, it should scream to us that we are not in control. Our busyness, bustling, and constant activity are often attempts at trying to control everything in our lives. We solve this and fix that and put out this fire. Well, this thing we are dealing with his bigger than me, than you, and yes, even bigger than all of us. We should accept our dose of humility and recognize that we are not in control. Only God is in control. To him we must turn.
  4. Pursue the presence of God. Our limitations drive us to One who is unlimited. More than ever before in my life, I realize that I need God. In the story where Jesus walked on water (John 6; Matthew 14), the disciples were rowing hard in the storm only to be frightened at the sight of Jesus walking on the water. Notice this, the disciples were in the storm watching Jesus walk on water because that’s where Jesus had sent them. They were obedient, and they were still afraid. Notice what happened next, “Jesus came to them.” Jesus will be with you in your fears. He will be with you today. Seek him. “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4:8). If we’re going to take seriously the message to wash our hands, we should take serious the reminder to draw near to God. You need him. Pursue him, and he will find you.
  5. Look ahead to the real future. At least for me, part of my worries come from wondering what will happen after we get through this wave. What’s on the other side? What will the socioeconomic impact be? How many will get sick? Will anyone I know and serve become a fatality? Dreading the future is a dangerous worry. But we need to look past COVID-19, past the response, past flattening the curve, past social distancing, past the socioeconomic consequences, past all these things. We need to look to the eternal future. As followers of Jesus, looking to eternity will help us overcome fear in the present. It will also remind us the desperate importance to spread the good news of Jesus to sinners who need repentance. May God help us point people to eternity.

“So we do not lose heart,” Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:16. God is with us through it all. I would love to read your feedback at how God is strengthening you during these days. Would you share how God is encouraging you with me? You can leave a comment below. Or you can comment on the social media platform that led you to this post.

The last few days have been surreal. Reactions to COVID-19 have been multifaceted and swift. Declarations of emergency. School closings. Spring sports suspended (children, high school, college, and professional). I could go on, but unless you’ve had your head in the sand, you already know all this.

I’m quite amazed at what has taken place and how fast it has happened. It is easy to be concerned. To watch or read the news is to immerse yourself in a cloud of concern. COVID-19 is extremely contagious. While not necessarily deadly to all who might catch it, its ease of transmission makes it troubling. What is evidently concerning is that the elderly with compromised immune systems are particularly vulnerable.

The speed of reactions is deeply concerning. The decisions to suspend public gatherings, cancel events, and isolate are aimed at mitigating public exposure to the virus. As Christians, we have an opportunity to reflect a confidence in God in the midst of a challenging situation. Here are 5 things we should remember in the days ahead.

  • While we should be prepared, we should not be afraid. Listen to the normal and wise advice about washing hands or avoiding crowds if you are vulnerable, but don’t give in to fear. Over and over again, God says to his people “Do not be afraid.” Of all the people in our world, Christians don’t have to fear. Throughout history God’s people have faced giants, armies, enemies, and persecutions. And God has always been victorious. God’s people overcome because God is sovereign. If you contract COVID-19, you don’t have to be afraid. If you are in isolation, you don’t have to be afraid (or alone, God promises to be with you). You do not have to fear.
  • While the church should react with regard to services and programs, this situation provides a unique opportunity for the church to be the church rather than just attend church. The ramifications of closings, suspensions, and cancellations will have lasting effects. Some churches may choose not to meet. Here’s a link to what Wilkesboro Baptist is doing this weekend. Churches that do meet may have low attendance. Regardless of what happens or doesn’t happen at church buildings, recovery from this situation will require the church to be the church to others. Being the church means that Christians can bring sanity and calmness to those around us by caring for the sick, feeding the hungry, providing for the financially depressed, or any other number of activities. My prayer is that we as Christians will be faithful and reflect the compassion and glory of God to those around us.
  • While we are right to act, we need to remember that humanity is not sovereign. I’m troubled by our human attempts at containment. And it’s not for the reasons you might think. The 21st century west is quite arrogant. We cannot change the weather. We cannot eradicate illnesses and viruses. We cannot cheat death. We are not sovereign. The Christian worldview does not encourage carelessness or negate preparation. However, the Christian worldview does put disease, illness, and death in context. Our reactions may slow down or stall the spread of the virus in the short term. And if so, the reactions may be worth it. But we cannot stop COVID-19. Indeed, we cannot stop every illness, sickness, disease, and death. Only the Great Physician can truly heal, rescue, and protect. The great lesson of this pandemic might actually be the humbling of our nation and the reminder that only God is sovereign.
  • While we might be isolated, we need to pray for the medical professionals. Many of you reading this will be able to isolate yourselves quite comfortably. Please remember in prayer the doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel who will be testing, caring, and ministering to the sick. They are on the front lines of this situation and need our encouragement and prayer support. Remember, this is new for them as well.
  • While we might be concerned about the future, we must have faith. It may seem callous to some to be concerned about the economic ramifications of our nation’s reaction. Whether callous or not, it is real. People are going to lose their jobs. Industries will slow and shut down. The stock markets will struggle. It already is painful economically and is likely to get worse. But we don’t have to lose faith. Remember the words of Habakkuk as he anticipated God’s judgment and its economic affect 2500 years ago.

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
    nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
    and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
    and there be no herd in the stalls,
 yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
    I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
 God, the Lord, is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the deer’s;
    he makes me tread on my high places.

Habakkuk 3:17-19

So, what should we do?

  1. Be wise. Use common sense. Follow the advice of health professionals.
  2. Be calm. There is a lot of fear mongering and misinformation. Seek the truth. Relax. God is in control. We will come through this.
  3. Pray. Any crisis is a reminder that we must depend on God. Take the time afforded you in the coming days to pause, pray, and seek God. I believe wholeheartedly that God will use this situation to bring us closer to him if we will let him.

Can you picture it? On one side of the valley is the army of the Philistines. On the other, the army of Israel. 3,000 years ago Goliath the giant stood in the middle of a similar valley mocking Israel and Israel’s God. On a fateful morning, shepherd boy David arrived and witnessed the terrifying blasphemy.

We often apply this story with David as our model and Goliath as representative of our giants and obstacles. In this interpretive scenario, any difficulty becomes our Goliath and David’s faith and courage become our template for overcoming.

I believe this interpretation is individualistic and shortsighted. David stood before Goliath because the Philistine army was seeking to take away Israel’s land. God had given Israel the land. Israel was standing on the promises of God. David’s victory over Goliath is a template, but not primarily of personal triumph. It is a picture of deliverance.

God used David to deliver Israel from Goliath and the Philistines. God honored David’s faith and established David’s fame that would eventually lead David to Israel’s throne. We’ll not dive into the story’s details here, but you should reread 1 Samuel 17.

David is a model of faith, but his faith and his victory were designed to redeem and deliver. God wants your faith to grow. He wants you to overcome. He does not want you to experience defeat. Ultimately, we know this because David is representative of a Greater King and a Greater Deliverer who withstood the enemies (giants we could not overcome) of sin, death, and Satan on a cross outside of Jerusalem.

What God does desire for you and for me is that our faith would grow so that he can use us to participate in his work of deliverance for others.

David developed his faith in four specific ways in and around 1 Samuel 17. I’ve written them below as applications that will help us as we develop our faith in God.

  • We develop our faith in the alone times with God. David spent years in the wilderness caring for his father’s sheep. His alone time with the sheep provided David the opportunity to reflect on the glory and majesty of God (look at Ps. 2, 8, 19, 22, 23, and many others). If you want your faith to grow, you must make time to read God’s Word, reflect on his glory, worship him privately, and pray to him regularly.
  • We develop our faith by being faithful in the little things. Goliath provided a giant test to David’s faith. David was ready for that test because he was faithful in the little things in life. David took his role as a shepherd seriously. When he went to the camp that day, he was on an assignment from his father. Even on assignment, he left his sheep with a caretaker. David was responsible and faithful in the little things that few people noticed, but God noticed his heart (Acts 13:23). You can develop your faith by being faithful in whatever role God has given you: father, mother, child, caregiver, employee, boss, etc. If you will be faithful and full of integrity in the small things, God will prepare you to participate in his redemptive work in larger things.
  • We can develop our faith by looking to God’s faithfulness in the past. David’s faith in God in his previous battles against lion and bear developed his faith for the enemy of the present. One of the more helpful things we can do to develop our faith is to reflect on God’s deliverance in the past and the times we believed and God came through. The God who came through yesterday is the same God who will come through today and tomorrow. Too often we borrow fear and worry because we look at our situations. Instead, we need to look back at God who is and who is faithful. If we could trust him in the past, we can trust him in the present and the future.
  • We can develop our faith by relying on God and who God made us to be, not the resources of others. Saul offered his armor to David. This was a noble gesture. Actually, it was Saul’s responsibility to fight Goliath, but his fear and lack of faith in God kept him paralyzed in the camp. When David agreed to the battle, Saul sought to protect David by loaning his armor. David rejected it because he knew his strength rested not in outward vesture, or in military attire, or in skill and arms. His strength rested in God and what he had tested in the past—his sling and the stones. Our God is full of resources. Furthermore, he designed you perfectly. He gave you gifts and talents, and if you will trust him, he will strengthen you just like he did David.

Building our faith is vitally important for daily Christian living. Truthfully, we are more often like the fearful Israelite army than the courageous shepherd boy.

Get this. God wants to develop your faith because he invites you to participate in his work of deliverance.

  • Your faith in a trying situation might become the catalyst for an unbeliever to come to Christ.
  • Your faithfulness in the little things might be the testimony a child, grandchild, or friend needs to believe in God.
  • Your trust in God to be on mission (like going on a mission trip, sharing your faith, serving a local mission agency) might be the springboard a lost person needs to come to Christ.

God is interested in developing your faith for his redemptive purposes.

Before the Exodus, God spoke to Moses in a burning bush. Before Ezekiel prophesied life to dry bones, God met with the prophet. Before the Holy Spirit fell at Pentecost, the disciples met together for prayer in the upper room. Before the revivals in Europe and the Americas centuries ago, Christians met in prayer seeking God’s intervention. 

While our prayers and pleadings and preaching do not guarantee the work of God in revival, they are our only recourse. God alone can send a revival among his people and an awakening among the lost. Our part in God sending an awakening is prayer. 

Recently, my mentor and friend, Dr. Greg Mathis invited me to join him and other pastors for a special time of prayer on Tuesday May 5. I plan to attend. On Monday May 5, pastors from across North and South Carolina will gather on the property of Rev. Fred Lunsford to pray for a spiritual awakening. 

Fred Lunsford is a 95 year old preacher who believes in prayer. A WWII veteran who stormed the Normandy beaches on D-Day, Lunsford earned several medals in the service of his country. As Lunsford led several pastors to his place of prayer on a cold January morning, he did not discuss his military service. Rather, he talked about the burden God had given him to pray. He said, “The reason I am still here is because God has left me here to pray for a spiritual awakening.” 

This May 5 prayer gathering is a time to pray together. Private prayer is important for our individual lives, but corporate prayer is vital to the church. When the gathered church prays, God intervenes (see Acts 4). Praying together is a humble, corporate acknowledgement of our desperate need for God. 

This May 5 prayer gathering is an opportunity to pray together in a certain place. We can pray anywhere, but having a certain place is biblical. I’ll never forget one of Dr. Kenneth Ridings’ most famous sermons in Luke 11 where he emphasized the “certain place” where Jesus was praying. Fred Lunsford has a certain place where he goes to pray regularly. Every day when Fred wakes up, he takes the two mile drive to his “certain place” to pray.

On May 5, pastors and church leaders will gather at Vengeance Creek Baptist Church in Marble, NC at 10 am. From there we will trek to Rev. Lunsford’s special place of prayer atop the mountain for a time of concentrated prayer for revival and spiritual awakening. The event has been organized by Perry Brindley, JD Grant, David Horton, Michael Horton, Greg Mathis, Ralph Sexton, Jr. and Don Wilton. You can find out more information or register at the Mud Creek Baptist Church website.

What if you can’t make it? Will you take your lunchtime on that Monday May 5 to add your voice in asking God for a spiritual awakening in our land? 

You can read more about this invitation from Milton Hollifield, the Executive Director-Treasuer at the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina here.