We Are All Shut-Ins Now: 3 Lessons I Don’t Want to Forget About Ministry to Shut-Ins

We are all shut-ins now. We are home but we have found just how exhausting it can be to be home all of the time. The daily grind begins to get at us mentally and socially in a way we never expected. We are restricted, but hopefully we have learned some empathy in our restrictions.

As I ask God what he wants me to learn during the crisis of COVID-19, there are multiple lessons. I’m learning to pray more, I’m being reminded of the preciousness of being with God’s people, and I’m freshly aware of “if the Lord wills, we will do this or that.” But one theme that keeps coming back to my mind is that I don’t want to forget to have more empathy with those who can’t go out when we are all out again. Here are three lessons from quarantine about ministry to shut-ins.

A Call Means a Lot
I remember the first time our small group met on Zoom about one week after stay-at-home orders. We were overjoyed to hear each other’s voices after just days into isolation. During this quarantine, when I pick up the phone and call someone, there is a connection through hearing each other’s voices again that uniquely says, “I haven’t forgotten about you.” When quarantine is over, I want to remember how much it means to hear the voice of someone I haven’t seen in weeks or months. I want to remember that for a shut-in, a call means a lot.

A Handwritten Note Means a Lot
My kids are more excited than ever to check the mail nowadays. And secretly, I am too. When we can’t gather as a church body, there is power in receiving a handwritten note from a friend. During quarantine, I can send out multiple church updates and prayer requests through e-mail. But holding a handwritten note and seeing somebody’s handwriting, knowing they took the time to mail that note of encouragement and prayer to you, means something different. The ironic thing is, seniors are primarily the ones I have received handwritten notes from during this crisis. So a handwritten note may be a key to their love language, reminding them of the church body’s love and God’s love for them.

A Visit Means a Lot
Stay-at-home orders came from our governor not long after I had major leg surgery. So quarantine for me has basically made me a shut-in with health problems who can hardly leave the house. When it has been a beautiful Spring day and my family has gone for a walk or hike, I have been on the couch icing and elevating my leg. This has made the couple of socially-distanced driveway visits we have had from church members incredibly encouraging. I have learned that when you can’t go anywhere, but people go to the trouble to come to you, it points to the love and kindness of God. I hope I never forget that.

Those who can no longer come to church need the church to go to them. Sometimes that may look like a call, sometimes a note, and other times a visit. And in God’s economy, both the “giver” and the “recipient” are blessed. Some of the most encouraging times of ministry have been reading Scripture with a blind shut-in or hearing that they are praying for my family and the church. I am sure that I have often been more encouraged in Christ than them after a visit.

I have not always done well with this ministry although I do try my best to practice it. By God’s grace, I want to not forget these three simple lessons that God has taught me about being a shut-in during this crisis.

Shut-ins commonly feel forgotten as they go through long days with all of their health struggles and isolation. Let’s remind them that they are not forgotten by us–or by God. The God who told us to rise in the presence of the aged (Leviticus 19:32) still tells us today to honor their presence when they are at home.

We are all shut-ins now. Let’s not forget what it’s like to be encouraged by someone who expresses the love of Christ and points you to the Lord.

Thankful For Grace to Others

Note from Tim: Over the past seven days I have been publishing a short devotional each morning (I began HERE). I originally wrote these devotions for the Winter 2018-2019 issue of Open Windows and I have permission to republish them. I pray they are an encouragement to you in your walk with Christ!

Devotional Passage: 1 Corinthians 1:1-9

“I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus…” – 1 Corinthians 1:4

When we think about what we are thankful for, many things may come to mind. Our family. Our friends. Our job. Our home. Our country. Our church. Our salvation. But when we pause to thank God for His many blessings, how often do we thank Him for the grace given to others in salvation? In a list of things we are thankful for, it is easy to thank God for our own salvation or the salvation of a close family member. It is harder to remember to thank God for the grace He has given in the salvation of people within our own church or even people outside of our church.

Yet that is exactly the kind of prayer that the apostle Paul taught us to pray as he began his First Letter of Corinthians. May we imitate Paul’s heart by praising God for not only the grace given to us but also for the grace given to others–both near and far.

Father, I give You thanks for the grace that is salvation given to others. May my heart overflow in praise as I see Your kingdom advance.

Faith That Echoes

Note from Tim: Over the last week I have been publishing a short devotional each morning (I began HERE). I originally wrote these devotions for the Winter 2018-2019 issue of Open Windows and I have permission to republish them. I pray they are an encouragement to you in your walk with Christ!

Devotional Passage: Romans 1:8-17

“First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world.” – Romans 1:8

The faith of the Huaorani people echoes around the world. When they first heard about Christ in the jungles of Ecuador through five missionary martyrs, including Nate Saint and Jim Elliot, it was simply the start of a chain reaction. I have personally been profoundly edified in my faith through the testimonies of Nate’s son, Steve Saint, and Jim’s wife, Elisabeth Elliot.

The apostle Paul encouraged the believers in Rome by letting them know that their faith echoed around the world. As people heard of faithful believers in Christ in the midst of pagan Rome, their faith was encouraged. As a result, they were more likely to live out their faith wherever God had placed them.

How have you been encouraged in your faith recently? How could you continue that echo of faith today by sharing Christ with a neighbor or friend or by encouraging a fellow believer? Only God knows the chain reaction your faithfulness may set off. And as Paul told the Romans, faith that echoes results in thanksgiving to God.

Father, whether it is to my neighbor or friend or around the world, may my faith echo for Your glory.

Only One Cornerstone

Note from Tim: Over the next two days I will be publishing a short devotional each morning (I began HERE). I originally wrote these devotions for the Winter 2018-2019 issue of Open Windows and I have permission to republish them. I pray they are an encouragement to you in your walk with Christ!

Devotional Passage: Ephesians 2:18-22

“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone…” – Ephesians 2:19-20

If the foundation of your house is not solid, the entire house will shift. Imagine what damage this shifting would do to a building made out of stones. When a large structure, such as a temple, was built with stones in New Testament times, there was an essential stone that ensured a solid foundation: the cornerstone.

It was not a ceremonial stone with things inside of it like a time capsule. That is what a cornerstone is today. Then, it was usually the largest stone, and it was carefully cut and painstakingly laid so that it could be the basis for lining up all of the other stones.

Our faith is not built upon important people or philosophies; our faith is built upon the doctrines of the gospel passed down to us by the Holy Spirit through the apostles and prophets. Yet the unrivaled cornerstone that everything else is measured upon is not an idea or simply an important person, but the Lord of glory in the flesh. Our only cornerstone is Jesus Christ!

Father, I praise You for not only giving Your precious doctrines
but also for giving Your beloved Son.

From the Front Lines

Note from Tim: Over the next three days I will be publishing a short devotional each morning (I began HERE). I originally wrote these devotions for the Winter 2018-2019 issue of Open Windows and I have permission to republish them. I pray they are an encouragement to you in your walk with Christ!

Devotional passage: 2 Timothy 2:1-10

“Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” – 2 Timothy 2:3

My friend Bill was a soldier serving in Afghanistan when his life was forever changed. An explosion rocked their Stryker vehicle, burning him badly. I will never forget him saying that he was proud to have served his country. By definition, a soldier’s duty is often difficult.

Paul exhorted Timothy to be a good soldier of Jesus Christ. The incredible thing is, the apostle Paul was not doing this while he relaxed at home in his recliner with a cup of coffee. Paul was in prison, in chains. Second Timothy is a dispatch from the front lines. Timothy needed courage and endurance because of the difficulties of taking a stand for the gospel. This encouragement from a dungeon powerfully reminded him that he was in a spiritual battle and that his captain was the Lord Jesus Christ.

How is your courage and endurance for Christ today? Consider what a privilege it is to be in His army. As Paul reminds us a few verses later, “remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead” (v. 8).

Father, may I be a good soldier for You. Help me to remember whose army I am in when difficulty comes my way.

Fully Known & Fully Loved

Note from Tim: Over the next six days I will be publishing a short devotional each morning (I began HERE). I originally wrote these devotions for the Winter 2018-2019 issue of Open Windows and I have permission to republish them. I pray they are an encouragement to you in your walk with Christ!

Devotional Passage: Philippians 3:7-10

…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…  – Philippians 3:10

I don’t ever want to stop dating my wife, but I can’t tell you how glad I am to be out of the dating phase prior to our wedding 15 years ago. Now I know that my wife knows me and yet loves me. Before marriage we feel the need to impress. We hope that if we dress right, have the right conversation, and are fun to be around, we will be loved and accepted. If we do the right things, the relationship may continue.

Knowing Jesus is not like dating; it is more like a good marriage. The Bible even uses marriage as a picture of Christ’s relationship with His church. He loves us not based on the things we do or even who we are, but based on our covenant. Knowing Christ is not based on law, but grace.

When Paul met Jesus, he came to realize that all of his attempts at impressing God were nothing but garbage compared to knowing Christ. There is no greater pursuit. We are fully known–and fully loved–by the most important Person in the world. And He calls us to know Him deeper.

Father, may my deepest longing be to know Your Son.

In Life or in Death

Note from Tim: Over the next seven days I will be publishing a short devotional each morning (I began HERE). I originally wrote these devotions for the Winter 2018-2019 issue of Open Windows and I have permission to republish them. I pray they are an encouragement to you in your walk with Christ!

Devotional Passage: Philippians 1:12-21

“…as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.” Philippians 1:20

We might expect that somebody imprisoned for nothing more than sharing the gospel would be embittered. Surely, Paul could have been spiteful toward his guards, the government, or even God. We might even make excuses for him. Yet Paul had joy, even while imprisoned and chained to a guard. His overriding concern during his greatest trial was that he honored Christ, whether it be by the way he lived his life or by his death.

Paul expected that he would be delivered. But whether that deliverance was through release from prison or release from the body, he knew that he was invincible because the Spirit of Christ indwelled him.

Because of Jesus you can face any circumstance with boldness. This honors and magnifies Christ. During difficult times, remember that Jesus is with you. Even in death, the power of the resurrection opens the door to eternal joy with Jesus.

Father, whatever I face today, help me to know that Christ is near. May this truth give me courage to honor Him.

Uniqueness & Unity

Note from Tim: Over the next eight days I will be publishing a short devotional each morning. I originally wrote these devotions for the Winter 2018-2019 issue of Open Windows and I have permission to republish them. I pray they are an encouragement to you in your walk with Christ!

Devotional passage: 1 Corinthians 12:1-11

All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. – 1 Corinthians 12:11

The body of Christ is beautiful when both its uniqueness and unity are on display. We have great unity because we have one Spirit. Yet we have great uniqueness because the Spirit delights in giving us different gifts.

When my wife and I pick out Christmas presents for our children each year, we don’t give them all the same thing. Each child is different, and we delight in thinking about what will uniquely bring him or her joy. We also think about the big picture of what toys the other kids already have. We don’t do this because one child is better than the other. Rather, we pick different gifts for each child, because we can see each child’s unique makeup and how he or she fits into the whole family.

In considering how the Spirit has given gifts within the church, the apostle Paul wanted the Corinthians to see wisdom rather than competition. Instead of comparing your spiritual gifts with the spiritual gifts of another Christian, rejoice in how God has uniquely designed you to serve and glorify Him.

Father, show me the beauty of both uniqueness and unity in the body of Christ.

Love Your Wife Like Jesus Loves Her: Ten Great Loves for Every Husband

 

My article originally appeared at DesiringGod.org.

Some days, you go to Bible study and your life is slowly but imperceptibly changed. Other days, you go to Bible study and something in God’s word changes the trajectory of the rest of your life.

One spring day in 1998, as an 18-year-old college freshman, I understood marriage in a way I never had before. I had signed up for a Bible study taught by my college pastor, “Preparing for Marriage.” That day, Pastor Doug Busby gave me and all of the young men in the room an assignment that I have been working on for the last 22 years. I will continue to work on this homework until, for my wife and me, “death do us part.”

My pastor read to us, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church” (Ephesians 5:25). Then he asked us the obvious question (the question we husbands so often fail to ask in the daily grind of work and family life): How does Jesus love the church?

Ten Christlike Loves

As I have scoured the Scriptures, year after year, looking for ways that Jesus loves the church, ways that he calls me to echo his love for me in my love for my wife, I have found ten great loves. As a husband, God calls you to love your wife like Jesus loves her, so meditate on his deep, complex, and unparalleled love.

1. Stubborn Love

Jesus won’t ever leave his bride. He says to her, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). His love for your wife is based not on her performance, but on his covenant love for her. When we keep our marriage covenants through all of the challenges and changes over years of married life, we reflect his kind of stubborn, delight-filled love. May our wives know the comfort of love that says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

2. Hopeful Love

When Jesus looks at your bride, he sees her as already sanctified. This hope is anchored in the power and promise of the gospel. Paul writes to believers, “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). In fact, he sees her not only as already sanctified, but as already glorified (Romans 8:30). How often would your wife say that your love for her “hopes all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7)? By keeping eternity in mind, you can have patience with your wife, just as Jesus does with her — and you.

3. Pursuing Love

Jesus never takes a break from pursuing your wife’s heart, not romantically but persistently. In fact, he cares not only about her devotion, but also her affection (Psalm 37:4). He is the tireless Shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine to seek after the one (Luke 15:4–7). In a similar way, God is glorified when a husband continually seeks a deeper relationship with his wife. A husband who has been captured by Jesus’s love is an incurable romantic toward his wife.

4. Forgiving Love

Jesus gives your wife grace when she doesn’t deserve it. It may be that the most Christlike thing you can do is offer your wife forgiveness on a daily basis, remembering that you too are in need of forgiveness. The picture of forgiving love that every husband should seek to emulate is Jesus making breakfast for Peter, who had sinned against him, denying him three times at his crucifixion (John 21:12–15). Is it you or your wife who is usually the first to begin to move toward reconciliation when it’s needed?

5. Joyful Love

Jesus doesn’t just put up with your wife or grudgingly but persistently love her — Jesus loves to love her. He delights to be with his bride. He receives joy by giving us joy (Hebrews 12:2). Wives who are loved this deeply, who know their husbands love to love them, are often an even greater blessing to others. Love your wife so joyfully that it’s obvious to her and others.

6. Serving Love

Jesus served her in life and death. There is nothing — nothing — that God can call you to do for your wife that would be too much! Jesus “gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). Many husbands think of themselves as kings to be served, but you and I are called by God to be the chief servants in our homes. The way to Christlikeness in our marriages is through joining Jesus in taking up the towel and the basin (John 13:12–17).

7. Sanctifying Love

Jesus loves your wife by helping her to grow in holiness and by being her advocate before the Father (1 John 2:1). Do you encourage your wife to go to Bible study, even if it means you have to care for the kids by yourself for the evening? Do you regularly bring your wife before the Father in prayer? Work hard to help your wife blossom spiritually.

8. Leading Love

Jesus leads us to what is good for us. Jesus not only loves your wife with a leading rather than a passive love, but he also leads her toward what is good (Psalm 23:2). It is impossible to lead our wives spiritually if we ourselves are not being led by God through the word and prayer. One way you can lead her well is by seeking her input and then making big decisions (and accepting the consequences), rather than allowing the decisions and consequences to fall to her.

9. Providing Love

Jesus provides your wife with all that she needs. Do you notice your wife’s needs, even beyond physical provision, and do something about it? Christ nourishes her, providing an environment for growth and flourishing. The apostle Paul explains to us that “in the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies” (Ephesians 5:28). It made a marked difference in my marriage when I realized that it was my responsibility to do what I could to fill my wife’s sails.

10. Knowing Love

Jesus knows your wife better than she knows herself. He has an informed love for her. He knows her strengths, her weaknesses, and he acts on her behalf (Ephesians 5:29–30). While we will never know our wives like God knows them, he wants us to know them as well as we can. Our prayers for them will always be hindered if we fail to know them (1 Peter 3:7). Our wives know they are cherished when we make an effort to really know them.

Defy the Serpent with Love

One evening, I walked down the hallway from our bedroom with bare feet when I saw something you never want to see in your hallway: a snake tail sticking out where the floor meets the wall. It turned out that there was a crack in our foundation, and a snake had made its way through the crack, and up into our home.

Brothers, we have an enemy, that ancient serpent, who desires to squirm his way into our homes and cause havoc. But praise God, we know the snake crusher, Jesus Christ, who has already defeated him and loved us with a supernatural love. Know that when you love your wife like Jesus loves her, the foundation of your marriage is strengthened, Satan is defeated again, and Christ is lifted up for more to see.

Ordinary Christians Will End Abortion: Eight Ways You Can Help

 

This article originally appeared at DesiringGod.org and was featured at Challies.

When the Romans would leave unwanted newborns out to die, it was the Christians who would rescue and raise them. May our history become our legacy.

Our nation has been shocked in recent months by extreme abortion laws that seem to be hitting us one after the other, starting with New York passing a sweeping abortion law that loosened the requirement for who can be an abortionist, removed protections for unborn babies involved in violent crimes, and allowed abortions through all nine months of pregnancy.

Days later, the governor of Virginia talked about a bill that was in committee, and then calmly discussed how a survivor of a late-term abortion could be killed if the mother and doctor agreed. Then Senator Ben Sasse fast-tracked a bill protecting babies born alive during late-term abortions, saying that all US senators should be able to go on record against infanticide. It was shut down and continues to be.

I’m a pastor in Vermont, where we have been facing our own bill in state government, which some have called the most radical abortion legislation in the world. It has zero restrictions on abortion. Now they are working on passing a state constitutional amendment that would enshrine abortion as a right that “shall not be denied or infringed.” If only Vermont were alone in this. Multiple states now are considering similar legislation, even as other states are trying to protect preborn babies more.

How to Fight Such Evil

As Christians, who believe that God creates each human being — born or unborn — in his image, with the right to be protected, these swift events can be overwhelming. What can an ordinary Christian do in the face of so much evil?

1. Pray.
This is first and foremost. Let’s not dismiss this as a throwaway step to get to the real change. God, in answer to our prayers, does the impossible. Let’s continually ask him to do what only he can.

2. Study the Scriptures.

Recently, I made a list of fifteen sections of Scripture especially relevant to the pro-life cause to help me be better attuned with God’s heart on this subject before I would speak out against it: Genesis 1:27; Exodus 1:16–22; 4:11; 21:22–25; Job 10:11–12; 31:15; Psalm 14:4; 22:9–10; 127:3–5; 139:13–16; Isaiah 45:9–11; 49:15; Jeremiah 1:5; Luke 1:41–44; Galatians 1:15. I found myself in tears as the weight and impact of Scripture built conviction, holy anger, love, and grace in my mind and heart. Let’s go deep in the Scriptures before we go wide in sharing our beliefs.

In particular, Isaiah 45:9–11 hit me in a fresh way in light of legislation being considered around the nation that acts as if a fetus is not a human baby until he or she begins to breathe — or even later. At one point, God says through the prophet, “Woe to him who says . . . to a woman, ‘With what are you in labor?’” (Isaiah 45:10). Everybody knows that a pregnant woman is pregnant with a baby, a human being — regardless of what some of our legislators are proclaiming. Let’s have God’s word feed our minds and hearts, move our hands and feet, and open our mouths to speak for the unborn (Proverbs 31:8).

3. Share Scripture and your story.

Recently I had the opportunity to testify before a House committee. I not only shared Scripture with them, but I focused on the implications for those scriptural principles in our time and place. There is a time for legislators — as well as friends, relatives, or your fellow church members — to be educated on what God says about life before birth.

But we need also to think about how the fact that all human beings are created in God’s image impacts principles of law: like whether or not an abused pregnant woman should be able to seek justice for her baby, and whether or not insurance companies should be required to provide life-saving medicine and procedures to babies in the womb.

The House committee hearing was so impactful not because every person who spoke was a pastor (there were many), but also because of so many others who shared their story and expertise: women who regretted their abortion and had found forgiveness in Christ, nurses and doctors explaining their professional concerns, a lady who was conceived in rape explaining that her life matters and that the law helped her birth mom to do the right thing, and another mother, a social worker, who spoke to why women in poverty need to be encouraged toward the hope of adoption and motherhood.

4. Go testify, write, and visit your legislators.

If there is a public hearing, go on record in defense of the unborn, whether by written testimony or public speaking. I had never spoken in front of a government committee until recently. I was nervous before I got up to speak at the hearing. But when I began to talk about how the unborn have value given to us by God based on being human, not based on what they can offer, I was able to look the two co-writers of the bill in the eye confidently, and publicly declare that it is wrong to say that preborn babies have no rights. God will give you strength.

It is easy to write or call your government officials when abortion legislation is on the docket. If it is state legislation, go visit your elected legislators. When abortion decisions are being made at the US Supreme Court level, we feel there is nothing we can do other than to pray. But the new territory in the fight for life is now in your own neighborhood. You can go talk to your representatives and senators in person.

5. Support your local crisis-pregnancy center.

Your local crisis-pregnancy center does not receive tax dollars as they counsel women to consider adoption, providing them hope and help. They need our support, they need our encouragement, they need our prayers, and they need our volunteer hours. They are on the frontlines. Let’s join them.

6. Get involved with foster care and adoption.

When a courageous woman does give birth to a child who was in danger of being aborted, she and the child often need our support through foster care or adoption. This is one way we care for orphans in the United States. “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction” (James 1:27).

7. Minister to women who have had abortions.

As a pastor, I have cried with women who tearfully have shared that they were deceived at some point in their life and had an abortion. It has been especially helpful to have women in the church who can be an additional listening ear and a reminder of Christ’s forgiveness to these women who need our love and support. Those who were considering abortion but made the brave decision to give birth also need our help in many practical ways.

8. Remember our duty to love.

Protecting the unborn is one way you can love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31). But this also includes loving those we disagree with. Abortion is an emotional issue for both sides. But even as we confront those we disagree with, and don’t back down, we don’t call them names or ever threaten to harm them. They may be protecting the “right” to kill innocent children, but our duty to them is to tell them the truth, pray for them, and — as hard as it can be in this circumstance — to honor and love them (Romans 13:7–8). We also must never forget that the gospel ultimately is what changes hearts and minds.

Not to Act Is to Act

When I spoke to the House committee, I ended by telling them,

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor during the Nazi regime. Bonhoeffer pastored during a time that his government, the Nazis, claimed that an entire segment of humanity had no personhood. Bonhoeffer audaciously declared, “Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

We are speaking, and we are acting today, and we will continue to do so for those you are saying are non-people. You will continue to hear from us until every baby is not just given their rights back, but has an opportunity to have a birthday.

The question for us as Christians is, Will we continue to pray? Will we continue to speak? Will we continue to act? As a result of the love of Christ poured into our lives and hearts, the killing of babies in the womb cannot become white noise to us.