Three Biblical Habits That Have Become More Important During the Quarantine

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As the old saying goes, “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.” The Coronavirus quarantine has forced Christians to change the way they express their faith (at least for a little while). Who would have thought earlier this year that believers would have follow Jesus while staying 6 feet or more from everyone else.

Here are three biblical habits that become more important during the Coronavirus quarantine:

1. Gathering for Worship

Church attendance has been in decline for decades, but during the quarantine the faithful have been clamoring to get back to church. Even those who rarely attended before have shown an increased interest in starting to attend when in-person services are resume.

The church I pastor is scheduled to resume in-person services this Sunday. We will be taking many precautions to keep our people safe, like maintaining social distancing, encouraging that people wear masks, and discontinuing long-help traditions like passing an offering plate or shaking hands. Even with all of these changes, I get the sense that those who are able are ready to get back to church.

2. Preaching and Prayer

Even though we haven’t been able to meet together for the past few months, we have still  been able to connect through technology. We have had a strong response to our online worship service that features singing and preaching. I have gotten a steady flow of online comments and personal notes thanking me for the messages that I have been able to share via video. I have also had many phone call with people in our congregation. While I appreciate the opportunity to hear about their lives, it’s the time we have to pray together that matters most.

3. Serving Others in Jesus’ Name

There is never a bad time to serve some in Jesus’ name, but the current pandemic has added extra emphasis to the action. I have been encouraged to hear about all kinds of things that have been done to help those in need around our church and across the country, from delivering food to a family in need to setting up a field hospital in Central Park New York (thank you Samaritan’s Purse.)

The Coronavirus quarantine has undeniably changed some things in our lives, some for the good and some for the bad. I hope a renewed emphasis on gathering for worship, preaching and prayer, and serving others in Jesus’ name are here to stay.

What about you? Are there some biblical habits or spiritual disciplines that have become more important to you during the quarantine? Please your answer below in the comment section. I’d love to continue the conversation.

 

Wash Me and I Will Be Whiter Than Snow (Psalm 51:1-15)

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This is a guest post from my 15-year old daughter, Reese Couture. She wrote this devotion for a Kentucky WMU Acteens retreat that she helped lead.

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Sometimes the best feeling is to get clean. After a long day of hard work, whatever that work may be, it is satisfying to shower. Being greasy or sweaty or dirty probably isn’t one of your favorite things to be, but feeling fresh at the end of the day might be. No matter how gross or smelly you get, you are only a bath away from being comfortable again. In Psalm 51, we read David’s cry to God for a spiritual bath.

When you start reading these verses, you are in the heat of King David’s conversation with God. So much passion and intention are in these words, it seems like too much to unpack. In order to fully understand what is going on, we need to rewind. David was one of the most remembered kings of Israel. He was described as “a man after God’s own heart.” Unfortunately, he is remembered for both the good and the bad; Psalm 51 comes after the bad.

Long story short, King David saw a woman one day named Bathsheba and he instantly knew he wanted her. Bathsheba was a beautiful woman, but she was married to Uriah, an elite in Israel’s army. Since David had kingly powers, he decided to use them to get what he wanted. He was sexually immoral, he lied, he murdered, and he caused unnecessary pain. The prophet, Nathan, confronted David about what he did, which is where these verses pick up.

There are so many things that are asked of God here: to have mercy, to blot out transgressions, to wash away iniquity, and to cleanse from sin. The magnificent thing is that God can (and will) do all of those things for us, we just need to ask Him. His unfailing love will never run out, no matter how many times we come back to it and ask for it again. Have you been corrected by someone and all you want to do is just tell them all of the things they have done wrong? It is an unfair feeling for someone to seemingly place themselves above you when you are equal. The only person 100% justified in judging you and correcting you is God. He is 100% perfect. When you sin, you are sinning against God and His commandments. Being shown by Him what you are doing wrong can be a scary feeling that makes you feel small, but it is truly such a blessing.

Sin is a paralyzing feeling; it comes little by little until you are trapped. The scary thing is, Satan has been doing this for years and he knows the best way to get you. You come to this point where you can’t escape regret or guilt and it just feels like your sins are permanently hanging over you. You are absolutely devastated at yourself and it feels like you can’t do anything to shake the feeling. David was at this point. He was mourning and grieving, so clearly upset at what he had done. That’s not the end! We don’t just get left at this cliffhanger where our main character is at his all-time low. He asked God for forgiveness. He wanted to experience joy and gladness; he wanted to rejoice. David didn’t throw himself a sin pity party and wallow in his wrongdoings, he was able to have freedom when he gave his wrongdoings to God.

Renew and restore are some of the most beautiful words. They present a new outlook on life and create a new chapter. David asked God to renew a steadfast spirit within him and to not take His Spirit or presence away from David. Once we have God, He is with us forever. To be made new in Christ is something so spectacular; everytime we mess up, we can experience that over and over. It isn’t a one-time-only feeling. David also asks for his joy of salvation to be restored and to have a sustained, willing spirit. The encounters had with God cause great joy in Christians’ lives. It is the best feeling in the world to be filled with the Spirit. When we ask for our same old, boring interpretation of life to be transformed into a joyful outlook, things radically change. Having God’s restoration in your life will open up a pathway for you to be able to teach others how they can be restored as well.

In verse six, David talks about God’s desire for faithfulness. Life is busy, it’s just a fact. Every corner you turn there is something else competing for your time and attention. It gets so overwhelming. God wants us to give Him our schedules and focus. This is obviously so hard to do, but our Father really wants to be a part of every aspect of our lives. He wants not only the Church You, but the Work You, and the Social Life You, He even wants the Saturday Night Movie and Ice Cream You. When you give every part of your life to God, He becomes the most important thing in every part of your life. It is a full-circle moment because when God is at the center of attention in everything we do, we are using our energy to please Him. That in-turn lessens the tolerated sins that occur when we place God on the backburner in our lives.

Worshipping God when He once again helps us is so important. The reason we have the ability to praise God is so we can do just that. He gives us opportunities again and again to freely receive His compassion that we do not deserve whatsoever! Not only do we need forgiveness once, but we need everyday when we struggle on our path to righteousness. I think it is especially hard for a Christian to feel trapped in their sins because they have already been originally forgiven. It can feel like uncharted waters. You need to remember we all struggle and we will all always need God’s unfailing love and compassion. You can always turn around and be renewed and restored. Start a new chapter in your life where you are closer to God than you ever have been. Stop procrastinating and take a spiritual shower because you know you need one. He will wash you and make you whiter than snow.

 

 

Three Ways the Coronavirus Crisis Has Affected Me Personally

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The Coronavirus crisis has affected us all in profound ways. Every aspect of our lives has been interrupted with no clear timeframe (at this point) for when they will return to normal. Some of the things we used to take for granted, like seeing the doctor or going out to eat at a restaurant, have become forbidden for the time being.

Here are three ways the COVID-19 crisis and the quarantine has affected me:

  1. I am uneasy and off-balance because I’ve lost my routine.

Before Coronavirus hit, I had a daily and a weekly routine. I got up early and got ready for my day. I kissed my wife and dropped my kids off at school on my way to work. I came home after work and got ready for whatever activities were planned for that evening. I took most Fridays off and I spent most of my Sundays and Wednesdays at church.

Now that routine has been disrupted and I’m having a hard time finding a new normal. Most of the same things are still happening, they’re just jumbled up and in a different order. I’m still kissing my wife, but I see her more during the day since we are both working from home more often. My kids are still getting an education, but they are working from home too. I am still preaching, shepherding, and leading, but I am doing it from a distance and that feels odd.

  1. I am grieving the loss of community.

By nature, I am an introverted extrovert. That means that I’m not afraid to be alone, but I enjoy social time with small groups as well. I miss being able to visit with people at the ballgame or the grocery store. I miss being able to study for my sermons at Starbucks. And I miss being able to worship and minister with my family of faith at church.

I’m certain we will be able to rebuild a sense of connection in our neighborhoods, schools, and churches, but for now, I feel a sense of loss. I’m enjoying the extra time with my family, but I need to rhythms of life that tie my family to a larger community.

  1. I am hopeful for the future.       

While many things were good before the crisis, not everything was good. I was too negative, too busy, and too dependent on myself – and I wasn’t the only one.  If there is an upside to this, it’s that we have an opportunity to change. Moving forward, we can choose to see the positive instead of the negative. We can slow down and appreciate all of life’s blessings. And we can put our faith and trust more fully in the God who created us and sustains us day by day. He is not caught off guard by the Coronavirus and He will use it and the complications surrounding it to strengthen our faith in Him (James 1:2-4).

I hope and pray that the Coronavirus crisis ends soon, but that the lessons I learned from it last forever.

How has the Coronavirus crisis affected you? Please share in the comment section below.

Is My Anger From God or Somewhere Else?

christian-buehner-Fmn-feyisWI-unsplashTraumatic events, like the current Coronavirus quarantine, seem to bring out the best and the worst in people. Responses range from patient and supportive to annoyed and angry. Emergencies, disappointments, and delays of all kinds have a way of eliciting a strong response inside of us.

In Scripture, anger is usually lumped in with emotions and attitudes that are to be avoided (Galatians 5:20, Colossians 3:8). But is anger always sinful?

Like most of the characters in the Old Testament, King Saul had his share of flaws. Early on in his reign, however, he showed a lot of promise. In 1 Samuel 11, some of Israel’s enemies attack the town of Jabesh-Gilead and took the resident hostage. When Saul heard about it, the Spirit of God came upon him and he became “very angry.” Saul used his anger to call an army together and to rescue the residents of Jabesh from their attackers.

How do you know if your anger is from God, or somewhere else? The answer comes from assessing your emotions.

1. Is your anger something you want to hold on to?

Ephesians 4:26-27 puts a time limit on anger. It says, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil and opportunity.” Smoldering angry quickly becomes bitterness, hatefulness, and even violence. Leftover anger from days, months, or decades ago is a sign that your anger is not from God.

2. Did you get angry often?

Would people describe you as someone with “a short fuse?” If you get angry quickly, chances are you get angry a lot. James 1:20 encourages readers to “be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” If you dismiss the feedback of others and jump to angry conclusions on a regular basis, your anger is coming from within, not God.

3. Are you angry because you didn’t get something you want?

Children aren’t the only ones who get angry when they don’t get what they want. James 4:2 says, “You lust and do not have so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain so you fight and quarrel.” Unrighteous anger comes from the unmet wishes and desires of our hearts. That desire doesn’t have to be for something material; it can be for recognition or recreation. If you are angry because you feel deprived of something you deserve, your anger probably isn’t from God.

Godly anger is usually referred to as righteous indignation. It’s the feeling we get when we see someone who is abused or mistreated. It springs for our desire for justice and fairness.

As you navigate the days ahead, be mindful of your feelings. Be aware of where your anger is coming from. Is God moving you to help someone in need, or are you obsessed with your desires?

By the way, the photo at the top of this post isn’t me with a shorter haircut. It’s a great stock photo by christian buehner that I found on Unsplash.

Three Lessons I’ve Learned from Putting on This Year’s Living Christmas Tree

79194436_2826686150717048_7076236130881896448_oThe church that I serve has been putting on a Living Christmas Tree program for 35 years. Even though some people feel like Christmas pageants and church-sponsored light shows are thing of the past, our program is still very vital. We have tweaked and changed it over the years for sure, but it still draws a large crowd in our community and gives us the chance to present the real Christ-centered meaning of Christmas.

This year’s Living Christmas Tree program wasn’t without its challenges, but it taught me three valuable lessons. The first lesson is that Christmas provides a great opportunity for the church to reach out to the community. People seem more open to new ideas and new opportunities during the holidays. It may just be sentimentality or loneliness, but it’s a door that’s open for the gospel.

The second lesson is that personal invitations are powerful. We purchase advertising and put up signs telling people about our program, but it’s the personal invitations that make a difference. I met many people this year who came because they were invited by friend, family member, or an acquaintance.

The third lesson is the power of collaboration and teamwork. It takes a lot of people to pull off a program like the Living Christmas Tree – from those who sign in the tree to those who help park cars – everyone is important. When people serve together, they grow together and develop a closer bond, which a great benefit to the health of our church.

In the end, the Living Christmas Tree is just a tool to help us share the gospel of Jesus Christ with our local community. It may not last forever in this form, but it’s still effective and I’m thankful for it.

The Baby is a King

1-1260127732fbCMNativity scenes are a common sight at Christmas time. People set them up in their homes and public places to remind us all of the true meaning of Christmas. Regardless of the size, nativity scenes always include the same characters: Mary, Joseph, the Wisemen, and some shepherds (not a mention a few animals). The focal point of the nativity scene is always baby Jesus lying in a manager.

If you are not careful, you will get the wrong idea about Jesus. Yes, Jesus was born in the most humble of circumstances. Yes, Jesus was born a real-life, flesh and blood baby boy. Yes, Jesus was born into a Jewish family, but he was also born a king.

Matthew goes into exhaustive detail in his Gospel to emphasize this part of Christ’s character. Jesus was an heir to the royal throne and the promises of God through his connection to Joseph (Matthew 1:1-17). Jesus brought the presence and saving the power of God to earth through his supernatural conception (Matthew 1:18-25). Jesus received immediate attention and respect as the true king of God’s chosen people (Matthew 2:1-12). Jesus experienced unspeakable heartache and endured exile in order to fulfill his mission.

When you see a nativity scene this Christmas don’t forget that baby wrapped in swaddling clothes also wears a crown. He was born in humility but destined for glory. Jesus was and still is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.

Three Books to Read about Personal Evangelism

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Personal evangelism is sharing one’s faith in Jesus Christ, God’s Son. D.T. Niles described it more vividly as “One beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.”  As exciting as evangelism is, most believers find it challenging and intimidating. Here are three books to read about personal evangelism.

1. Everyday Evangelism by Matt Queen

81a75EKsx2LMatt Queen wants to create a culture of evangelism in churches across North America. He writes as a Southern Baptist to other Southern Baptists, but his simple strategy can be applied to any church that wants to improve her evangelistic efforts. Queen explores a number of common questions and challenges before recommending a hands-on strategy for personal evangelism. This book is great for church leaders who are looking for straightforward way to motivate others to share their faith.

2. Turning Everyday Conversations into Gospel Conversations by Jimmy Scroggins and Steve Wright

81u0LR0h7DLOne of the most difficult parts of personalism evangelism is making the transition from talking about everyday things to talking about spiritual things. Scroggins and Wright use the concept of “brokenness” to move unbelievers into a conversation about the gospel and our need to recover God’s original design for our lives. This book is will be a help to anyone who is afraid of personal evangelism

3. Evangelism Is… by Dave Earley and David Wheeler

51pSyEc0VVL._SX335_BO1,204,203,200_This book is a devotional book about sharing one’s faith. In it, Earley and Wheeler approach evangelism from 40 different angles – from motivations to methods. This book is thoughtful, thorough, and practical. It is great for readers who are willing to reexamine their thoughts about personal evangelism in order to become a more faithful witness. Every chapter is full of ideas on how to share Jesus with passion and confidence.

As always, you can find these books at your online retailer or bookstore. Feel free to share this post and these books with anyone that you know who wants to improve their personal evangelism.