A Christian’s Declaration of Stability In God In an Unstable Country

2020 has been a year of instability for the United States. I–and so many others–have never felt the stresses and strains of living in what we would call an “unstable country,” until now. But that doesn’t change my stability in God.

As we see new developments each day, and new crises and controversies that can stretch our faith and test our sanctification, perhaps you can pray each of these commitments with me, daily.

Every day I will choose to:

  • Praise God regardless of how He is answering my prayers (Psalm 145:2-3). Every day, regardless of the new headlines, I will repeat the Psalmist’s declaration: “Every day I will bless you and praise your name forever and ever. Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.” God is worthy of praise because He is God, not because He has answered my prayers the way I think He should.
  • Remember that God sets up & tears down kingdoms for His purposes (Daniel 2:21, 4:34-35). My generation is not the first that He has worked mightily in through upheaval, and unless Jesus returns first, it won’t be the last. God is not wringing His hands in Heaven in despair or wishing He could do more. The “king’s” heart is in His sovereign hands (Proverbs 21:1). I will remember that God is working through generations over decades and centuries and millennia, not just today. Every day I will choose to believe and remember that my time and place is just a small part of His great tapestry of redemption.
  • Be an active and good citizen to the best of my ability, shining light where it needs to be & being involved in the political process as much as is helpful. I will do what I believe God is calling me to do to make our country a better place (Jeremiah 29:7). I will not hesitate to contact my legislators, to vote informed, and to raise awareness when appropriate. I can do this without it overtaking my witness for Christ (I want to win people to Christ, not to a political party). I will work hard to hold the tension between being involved as a citizen because decisions in government do really matter, but remembering that in the end even the country I love is not my ultimate home. I am a citizen of the Unites States, so I care, but I am a citizen of Heaven, so I trust.
  • Trust my children’s unknown future to a known God. Corrie ten Boom said, “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God,” and I will apply this biblical principle to not only my life, but to the concerns I have for the country my children will inherit. The same God who has been my shepherd will be the same God who will shepherd them in decades to come (Genesis 48:15-16).
  • Pray that God will use this unstable time in our country to prepare hearts for another great awakening of faith in Christ. God has chosen to bring many to Christ through times of national unrest in the past, and I will pray that He will do it again, for His glory. It is often when the rug is pulled out from under people that they begin to ask questions about God or Jesus. In our own country, “The Jesus Movement” followed the tumultuous 60s. In our own time, I will pray that many will come to know Jesus as they begin to question where their trust is. I will pray that many believers will rise up to not be afraid to share the stability of knowing God in Christ, and that churches will be strengthened to be true to the Word, discipleship, and evangelism.
  • Preach the gospel to myself and others, reminding myself that I am not my own but have been bought with a price. My life is not my own. I have been placed in this time in history and this place in the world on purpose, for a purpose–which is to glorify God by knowing Christ and making Him known. It is no accident that I live here and now (Acts 17:26). I will share the hope of Jesus with all in my community who will listen. Jesus truly is our only hope. I will remember that eternity is more significant than this moment in history, and that each person I interact with–either in-person or online–is an eternal being who either needs Jesus or whom I will spend eternity with in Heaven. God will hold me accountable for each word I speak or type (Matthew 12:36-37).
  • Spend more time in the Word than reading or listening or watching politics each day. My mind will be renewed by God speaking through His Word (1 Timothy 3:16), not by being immersed in the latest political development. I can dip into the news and be informed without it becoming the driving force behind my thinking–which is the place of God’s Word alone. Charles Spurgeon is attributed with rightly observing, “A Bible that’s falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t.” I am not putting my head in the sand–I will be informed–but I am intentionally choosing to listen to God’s voice more than any other, which puts my feet on solid rock.
  • Remember that many of the people of God have gone through more difficult trials in their countries and have still held fast to Christ (Hebrews 10:34). From the prophets & faithful Israelites before Christ, to countless faithful believers in church history, to the persecuted church around the world today, many have gone before me in great persecution–and just plain unrest–and have continued to hold fast to Christ. Simply because I was born in the U.S., I am no better than my brothers and sisters in Christ half way around the world who are refugees worshiping in a makeshift tent with only a bag of possessions left to their name. In fact, I will look to them for examples of perseverance in the faith in the face of great political upheaval.
  • Hold fast to God in faith, rather than letting fear build in my heart. I want my actions and my words to be led by faith, not fear. Every day I will choose to remember that God is for me (Romans 8:31), that Jesus loves me (Galatians 2:20), and that the Holy Spirit empowers me and is even in me (John 14:15-20, 27).

At the funeral of the Puritan Richard Sibbes, Isaak Walton remarked, “…Heaven was in him, before he was in heaven.” May heaven be more seen in us because of our longings, actions, prayers, and reflection of God’s heart. May the same be said of us in spite of–no, because of–this moment in our country’s history.

Five Ways to Pray For Your Pastor at This Point in the Pandemic

This article was featured at Small Town Summits Articles.

When we had to make the decision to not meet physically as a church months ago, I thought the hardest decisions were behind us. One of my pastor friends shared a meme of Chris Farley walking down the aisle of a church building, high-fiving and chest-bumping with church members, ecstatic to be there. We all thought our first Sunday back would be something similar, thrilled to be back in church together before long.

But as I write this, many of us are still preaching online only. Others are gathering with drive-in or outdoor services, and a few are meeting indoors with precautions, including capacity limits.

 Every job has stress that has never been felt before right now, new situations that are facing us at work that we never thought we’d be thinking through. Pastors know that we are not unique in this and we are praying for you. But as a pastor, I want to ask you to pray specifically for your pastor and elders. They feel the weight of shepherding and leading the people of God. And the path ahead is foggy. They may be battling a low-grade sense of malaise, of wondering what crisis is next and how they will deal with it from a distance. Here are five ways to pray for your pastor and church leaders at this point in the pandemic.

1. For wisdom
Part of shepherding and leading a church is planning for the future. But it is hard to do that when we hardly know what next Sunday may look like. There are a multitude of decisions facing your pastor and leaders every day right now. Should there be singing in the sanctuary or not? Masks required or recommended? Virtual or in the sanctuary if the outdoor service is canceled due to rain? Should the Memorial Service be planned for mid-July or postponed indefinitely for now, or would it be best to just do it on Zoom? Should small groups begin to be planned for the Fall again?

Every one of our ministries has been affected or canceled and we often don’t know what is best. We certainly don’t know the future. Pray for wisdom for your pastor and elders. They are probably praying often for wisdom, claiming the promise of James 1:5, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” Can you also ask God for them?

2. For a shepherd’s heart
We want to advance the gospel. We want to disciple people. We want to fellowship. We want to encourage. But it’s hard right now. We are used to counseling people face to face and having difficult conversations looking in each other’s eyes rather than over the phone or by seeing each other in a box on our computer. We want to call everyone on the church list or go visit them in their driveway but decisions we didn’t want to make this week are forced upon us. Somebody goes into the hospital and we try to figure out whether or not we can visit them. Everything we do seems to take longer because all of our processes and routines are off, and we just can’t seem to make it through the list.

Pray that your pastor and elders will have perseverance, and continue to have the same shepherd’s hearts even if how the heart of Jesus is displayed through them looks different right now. Pray that they will know that Jesus is shepherding his sheep just fine. Pray that your pastor will have the patience to face his own shortcomings and trust that God will use his shepherding efforts during this crisis. Pray that he will rely on other church leaders and that they will give him the help that he needs.

3. For peace
Pastors are people too. And people struggle with worry, especially in a time of crisis. It could be that his wife’s job has been affected financially and nobody in the church knows. It could be that the church finances are struggling and he wonders if he will be able to continue serving there long-term even though he wants to, or if he will need to find a part-time job or cut staff. He may be worried about how this has affected his marriage, or whether or not certain new attendees who he has not seen online will come back.

He may be struggling with the right decisions about reopening. Some church members are saying none of this matters and everyone is overreacting. Others say they don’t know if they will ever come back as they have health problems or are caretakers for an elderly relative.

Pray that every day your pastor will find peace in Jesus as he leads others to peace in Jesus (John 14:27). Pray that he and your elders will ultimately care most about answering to God for how they led during this pandemic rather than what the loudest or most powerful church members think. Pray that they will run to God their Father for refuge and strength each and every day.

4. For rest
Pray for rest for your pastor. There may be the rare pastor who has somehow figured out how to pastor during this pandemic with the same workload he had before. But every pastor I know is tired. Many are struggling to take their regular day off. He may get to the end of the week every week and the demands for changing ministries and future planning that may feel futile have all just worn him out. He may be feeling inadequate for the challenges of the new week. It turns out that preaching to a computer in your pajama pants and dress shirt is exhausting.

One pastor friend explained it like this, “I get to late afternoon and I look at what I accomplished, and it seems like it should still be morning. I’m just in a fog.” I was telling someone recently that preaching has been a bit like a driving simulator that has a baby carriage, a dog, and an old lady pop out into the street at the most unexpected times. In a matter of weeks I’ve gone from preaching to a computer screen to preaching to cars to preaching to people on a lawn. I’m grateful for the opportunity to continue to preach God’s Word, but I always wonder if I did the best I could have. I didn’t realize the wind would blow my Bible pages around so much. Should we rearrange it a different direction next time due to the angle of the sun? Who was in that car over in the corner of our Drive-In Service?

Pray that your pastor will find and guard some sort of rhythm of rest during this time, both physically and spiritually. Pray that he will be able to figure out a way to take his vacation time. Pray that, contrary to all he feels, that he will realize that sometimes the most Christ-like thing he could do during this crisis is take a nap (Mark 4:37-38).

5. For his family
I have sometimes been guilty during this pandemic of caring for the needs of so many others and neglecting the needs right under my nose. Pray that your pastor would take the time to go do something outside with his family, and not feel guilty about it. Pray that he would make time in his constantly changing schedule to just be with them. Pray that his wife and children would know his love and care, and know how to support and share him during this crisis.

Pray that they would have unique opportunities to minister together as a family. Pray that they would know the joy of the Lord and the comfort of walking with him each day, step by step. Pray that by a miracle of God’s grace, that he and his family would come out on the other side of this crisis stronger in their relationships with each other.

One of the greatest gifts you can give your pastor is to faithfully pray for him, maybe even with him. At one point several weeks into the pandemic, we had an elder and deacon meeting in which we were making some decisions that could have a major impact towards gospel advance. But the decisions required courage and wisdom. I wanted both but just didn’t have it on Zoom that evening. During our prayer time, one of my brothers prayed for me out loud. Knowing what they were all dealing with at their jobs, it meant so much to hear his prayer for me. But more than that, I experienced the power of prayer for a pastor as I had more clarity of mind and strength in the rest of that meeting than I knew I had left.

 The Spirit works powerfully when his people pray. Prayer is not a ritual, but an actual tapping into the power of God. Be sure to pray for your pastor and church leaders today. They need it.

Together In Our Solitude: The Power of “One Spirit” During COVID-19

One faith.

One Lord.

One baptism.

One body.

One Spirit.

I never knew the power of these phrases from Ephesians 2 until we were forced to shelter in place. But these inspired words have been infused with new meaning for our local church bodies. The power of “one Spirit” bringing us together in our solitude brought a smile to my face last week.

The tone on the other end of the line sounded again and I wondered how I could get their correct phone number. But suddenly, this time, a cheery voice came through on the other end.

“Hello, Jane?” I inquired.

“Oh, Pastor Tim, how wonderful to hear your voice!”

I had been trying to get ahold of the elderly couple who had recently moved to town. I was worried they would think no one from their new church cared. I wondered about their health. Was her husband’s heart ok?

Jane assured me they were fine. “We pray regularly for the church prayer requests you have been e-mailing,” she shared. “And we pray for you and your precious wife and kids every day.”

That’s when it hit me. One Spirit.

My concern for Jane and her husband was eclipsed by their daily prayers for me and my family. Because we share the same Holy Spirit, we are together in our solitude.

We are only a prayer away from strengthening hearts and impacting eternity.

The Spirit binds us even when we are apart. The Spirit works in our lives even when we are not physically in each other’s lives. The Spirit ministers in each person when I only wish I could minister in person.

Because of the power of the Spirit’s ministry, we are together in our solitude.

One faith.

One Lord.

One baptism.

One body.

One Spirit.

Even far apart.

 

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.

Prayer & Encouragement

Note from Tim: Over the next four 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: Philemon 1-6

“I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers…” – Philemon 4

I only knew Karen in person for three years while I was an associate pastor at her church. Yet through serving in an after-school Bible club together, Karen became a prayer warrior and cheerleader for my wife and me. When the Lord called us more than 3,000 miles away to a hard ministry, little did we know that Karen would continue to minister to us. There is perhaps nothing that can bring greater encouragement than praying and letting that person know that you are doing so.

The apostle Paul knew this. Paul had a special request for Philemon, so he wrote him a letter. And at the beginning of that letter he let Philemon know that he faithfully prayed for him, and often thanked God for him.

Who has God placed in your life that you can be a “Karen” for? Maybe it’s your pastor’s family, a missionary, or someone you know who is fighting cancer. Pray for them often, and then let them know. Prayer is powerful. Encouragement is powerful. When the two are combined, watch out! You will see God at work.

Father, show me who I need to faithfully pray for and encourage.
Help me to do both.

Father, Help Us To See

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This article was featured at The Baptist Convention of New England blog.

Father, help us to see.

Father, help us to see you. We are spiritually blind without your Spirit giving us eyes to see (Ephesians 1:18) and we need to see you, first and foremost. If we can see you in all of your glory, all of your power, all of your justice, and all of your grace, then we will know that you are at work in us, for us, around us, and through us.

Father, help us to see the work you are doing in us. We so often feel like we take one step forward and two steps backward in our pursuit of you. We so often end up needing to learn the same lessons again, or struggling to believe what you have promised us in your Word. Help us to see the little victories, the little inclinations of our hearts when we lean towards you more quickly than we used to. Help us to see temptations overcome hour by hour. Help us to see that you are committed to us. Help us to see that you will complete the work you have begun in us (Philippians 1:6).

Father, help us to see the work you are doing for us. In this fallen world it is often hard to believe that you are working all things together for our good (Romans 8:28). Help us to adopt your definition of good, the highest goal of becoming more like Jesus (Romans 8:29). Help us to see that there is no greater love than your love that will never let us go (Romans 8:38-39). Help us to see how you are working for us in ten thousand ways, because as John Piper says, we can only see about three of them right now. Like the Israelites standing on the edge of the Red Sea in front of them with enemies coming at them from behind, help us to see that you will fight for us if we are still and will trust you (Exodus 14:14).

Father, help us to see the work you are doing around us. Just as you opened the eyes of Elisha’s servant to see that you were working all around them when it seemed so dark (2 Kings 6:17), open our eyes to see that you are always working for the advance of your Kingdom around us. We so often can’t see it, but you are working around us every day. People are reading the Word and coming to an understanding of who Jesus is. People are finding out they have cancer and coming to grips with their mortality. People are asking questions about you and your Son because of something they heard when they were children. Father, we need your help to be able to see the work you are doing around us, because without your light we only see darkness.

Father, help us to see the work you are doing through us, for the advance of the gospel. We are laboring in your vineyard but the sun is hot and we are weary. It seems that often where we plant seeds, weeds spring up. Father, help us to see that you are at work through us for the advance of the gospel. Help us to see that you are more zealous for your own glory than we are (Isaiah 48:11). Help us to see that you don’t just work in those places and those times, but you are at work among us and even through us today. Help us to see the single mom coming to church and growing in her love for Jesus. Help us to see the teenager sitting in the same pew he has been in since he was a baby, who is beginning to believe–really believe–that Jesus is his Lord and Savior. Help us to see the tired married couple beginning to love each other the way you tell them to for the first time, as they are discipled through your church. Help us to see the friend beginning to ask questions about the gospel, the friend we never expected would ever be interested in Jesus.

Father, help us to see you, and help us to see what you are doing in us, for us, around us, and through us. Just as Jesus touched Blind Bartimaeus when he called out to him and he gave him his sight (Mark 10:51-52), we are calling out to you and asking you to restore our sight, so we can see you and your work in our time and place. We await your touch. Father, help us to see.