Four Ways to Choose Faith Over Fear

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 There’s a new virus spreading across America and its effects are much more deadly than COVID-19. The new sickness that’s spreading is fear. People are afraid to leave their homes because they might catch the COVID-19 virus and die. In some communities, they are afraid to leave their homes because they might get caught up in a violent protest.  Friends and neighbors are hesitant to look at each other in the eye at the grocery store for fear of being judged for not taking enough precautions or for taking too many precautions. Unfortunately, the nation’s politicians and news outlets are fanning the flames of fear to grab headlines and boost their ratings. Make no mistake about it, COVID-19 and racial injustice are serious threats – but fear is the greatest threat in our country right now.

Those who are familiar with the Old Testament will remember another time when fear was a great threat to God’s people. Joshua stepped up to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land in the first chapter of the book that bears his name, and he was afraid. The Israelites had already failed once to enter the Promised Land and the people there were fierce and powerful. Even though Joshua had some good reason to be afraid, he chose faith over fear. As we follow his example in this chapter, we find four ways to choose faith over fear in our present situation.

  1. Experience God’s Presence (vv. 1-6).

God wanted Joshua to know that He was the one leading Joshua before He called Joshua to lead His people. In other words, God promised that He would always be with Joshua. The newly-appointed leader’s success didn’t rest on his performance, but on God’s sovereign presence and power

The same is true today. God takes care of His people like a loving Heavenly Father. There is nothing that happens to us that does not pass through His sovereign hedge of protection. Even when we can’t understand why He allows something painful to happen, we can trust that He has a plan.

  1. Establish God’s Word as a Priority (vv. 7-9)

God promised Joshua success if he obeyed The Law – God’s Written Word. He was to be so focused on it that he would not deviate from it to the right or the left. Even though Joshua was involved in a military and political operation, God wanted Joshua to know His heart.

I am not trying to minimize the dangers we are facing right now. I am saying that it is much easier to walk by faith in God when we read and study His Word regularly. Political crises, healthcare emergencies, and natural disasters will come and go, but God’s Word remains forever (1 Peter 1:25).

  1. Embrace Biblical Community (vv. 10-15).

Once God prepared Joshua, he shared his plans with the rest of the Israelite people, even the Reubenites, Gadites, and part of the tribe of Manasseh. These three tribes had made special arrangements to settle on the east side of the Jordan River. But Joshua knew that if they were to be successful, they would need everybody to be involved.

The greatest source of community and encouragement in the New Testament world is the Church. The COVID-19 crisis has made it difficult to meet face-to-face the way we always have, but that doesn’t mean we should give up the practice altogether. Faith is encouraged and fear is kept at a distance when we know we are not alone.

  1. Energize Yourself and Others to Move Forward (vv. 16-18).

The Israelites responded positively to Joshua’s instructions. But Joshua knew they needed more than good intentions to conquer Promised Land. He reminded them of God’s promises and pushed them to move forward.

Fear tends to paralyze us. We can fight that tendency by moving closer to our goals, even if it is only one small step at a time. Giving up and giving in to fear is not an option if you know that God has a great plan for your life.

Joshua’s courageous example inspires us to choose faith over fear. As we read in the 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment” (HCSB). We must use the power, love, and common sense that God has given us to vaccinate ourselves from the virus of fear that has infected so many in these times.

The Blessings of Weddings and Funerals

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In his Primer for Pastors, Austin B. Tucker ties pastoral ministry to the ministry of Jesus. “The first miracle of Jesus…was at a wedding where he turned water into wine (John 2:1:11) The last miracle was at the grave of his friend, Lazarus, where ‘Jesus wept’ before he restored his friend to life (John 11:35). Every pastor who walks with his people will have his own mixture of joy and sorrow.”

I have had the privilege and blessing of officiating more weddings and funerals than I can count. As a minister of the gospel, I have always tried to highlight the power of God’s Word during these milestone moments with couples and families.

Here are two guides that I have developed, one for each end of the spectrum of life. One is for Christian couples who are about to get married. The other is for someone who is planning or participating in a funeral for a family member or friend.

Wedding Planning Guide

Funeral Participation Guide

 

Three Ways to Balance the Tension Between Avoiding Bad Company and Living Like a Missionary

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This past Sunday I preached a sermon from Proverbs 1:8-19 on avoiding bad company, especially those who are fascinated by violence and greed. I focused the message around the corrosive character of trouble-makers as well as their ultimate destiny. I warned the young and the old in the congregation I serve to avoid violent people or you will become the victim of their own crime. I encouraged them to set their sights on living a God-honoring life and to distance themselves from anyone who might distract them from that goal.

But what about living as a missionary? Aren’t Christians called to live as “salt and light” among those who lost and spiritually separated from God (Mathew 5:13-16)? Didn’t Jesus spend at least some of his time with sinners and other “unsavory” people (Mark 2:14-17)? Didn’t Jesus commission his followers to live like missionaries in neighborhoods and nations around the world (Acts 1:8)?

At times, there is a tension between avoiding bad company and living like a missionary. Here are three questions to balance out that tension.

1. Is this a voluntary or involuntary association?

You can’t choose your family members, but you can choose your friends. This means you may have to make the most of an unpleasant relationship with a relative. You can’t (or shouldn’t) disown a family member just because he or she is not receptive to the gospel. You may want to rethink friendship, however, that is consistently pulling you away from the things of God.

2. Is this a short-term or long-term connection?

There is more at stake with a long-term partnership than a short-term acquaintance. You will have a much great opportunity to influence someone while you work on a work or school project together than by sitting beside them at a one-time social function. The longer timeframe will also give you an opportunity to assess the health of the situation.

3. Are you in a position to influence or be influenced?

Peer-to-peer relationships involve people who have the same level of influence, while superior-to-subordinate relationships involve two different levels of influence. Knowing where you stand in relation to those around you will help you assess your ability to persuade others. You may have a lot more control over a positive relationship with a co-worker than a negative relationship with your boss.

There are many other factors to consider in the tension between these two goals.  Is there any kind of abuse or criminal activity involved in the relationship? Are you actively praying for the spiritual wellbeing of the person or persons you are trying to reach? Are there any cultural or communication barriers that are obscuring relational goals?

What other questions would you ask in balancing out the tension between living like a missionary and avoiding bad company?

 

 

The Cure for Racism and Injustice

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Last Wednesday, the Lt. Gov. of Texas, Dan Patrick, said what many born-again, Bible-believing  Christians were thinking – that you can’t cure racism and injustice without first accepting Jesus Christ as your Savior. This opens the door to a change of heart and a change character which allows individuals to love their neighbors as themselves.

There are no simple solutions for the racism and injustice that has been exposed by George Floyd’s death, but spiritual revival is a place to start. This approach reminds me of the connection that is made in the first chapter of Proverbs between reverence towards God and wise living. In verse 3, the Biblical author claims the righteousness, justice, and equity can only be achieved through obedience to God’s Word. Justice and equity are values we all really need right now.

Verse 7 is the theme verse for the whole book of Proverbs: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (NIV). It is repeated again 9:10  and 15:33 to emphasize the connection between fearing God and living rightly. When someone starts with a personal relationship with God and does their best to follow the path of life laid out in the Scriptures, they are much more likely to live overcome racism and injustice, in their heart and in their community.

Verse 7 also underlines the chaos that comes from marginalizing God and ignoring His Word. Lt. Gov. Patrick also spoke of the efforts of some to “kick God out” of our country. Those who discount faith in Christ and the wisdom of God’s Word should expect turmoil, confusion, and violence – and that’s exactly what we have right now in our country.

Once again, there are no simple solutions for racism and injustice and America, but there is a cure. Those who change their hearts towards God and the Savior that He sent, Jesus Christ, will be uniquely equipped to love their neigbhors as themselves, regardless of the color of their skin.

Do you agree with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick? What other connections do you see between faith in Jesus Christ and justice and equity?

 

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 Keys to Sharing Your Faith through Social Media

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The coronavirus crisis has turned our world upside down. People all over the world are dealing with the disruption and uncertainty of event cancellations, extended quarantines, and furloughs from work. On top of that, a growing number of people are getting sick and being overcome by the virus.

People are using social media in new ways to stay connected these days. They are sharing daily updates and adapting games so they can be played at a distance. Some are inventing new challenges to impress their friends. Churches that have had a minimal presence online are streaming their services and bible studies.

This crisis presents a unique opportunity for Christians who want to share their faith. We aren’t able to gather face-to-face, and yet people are hungry for a sense of peace. Here are 3 keys to sharing your faith through social media.

1. Stay Positive

Social media seems to bring out the best and worst in people. Avoid venting out all your frustrations in a long, nasty rant.  Resist the urge to comment on or repost that inflammatory political post blasting “the other party” (this means you). It’s hard to point people to the good news about Jesus Christ when you are known for your negativity.

2. Be Interactive

Social media can be used at a distance, but it has to be interactive to be effective.  Give friendly and thoughtful replies to your friend’s posts and be responsive when they reply to yours. Ask good questions and look for opportunities to turn things toward the gospel. Host a watch party for your church’s online worship service and invite some of your unchurched friends.

3. Use Good Resources

I’ve been recording and posting a brief prayer every day focused on different groups of people who have been affected by the coronavirus. You can make up your own faith-filled content or post links to quotes, articles, and videos that are already done. Two videos that I’ve found to be helpful are “The Story” which can found at www.thestoryfilm.com and The Three Circles presentation on Vimeo. The church that I pastor is live streaming our Sunday Worship service on our website homepage and our Facebook page which can also be shared.

Every crisis is an opportunity to grow and adapt. The message of God’s sinless Son, Jesus Christ, has been overcoming obstacles and barriers ever since He walked out of the grave 2,000 years ago. Coronavirus will not steal my reason for hope.

What are some ways you’ve used social media to share your faith? Leave your responses in the reply area below.

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.