When the month of July rolled around, I turned the page on the Pathways calendar in my bedroom, but didn’t pay much attention to the message on this month’s page. This calendar has had encouraging quotes by Christian writers, so today I decided to check out this month’s message. Here is what I found.
“Look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else.” – C. S. Lewis
As I read these words, the cry of my heart was to look for Christ in all the difficulties we have walked through for the last few months. Where is Christ in the midst of all the uncertainties of this world-wide pandemic? Where is Christ during this time when our Christian freedoms are being threatened? Where is Christ in the financial difficulties that we face as a result of shutting down our economy? Where is Christ in the midst of the civil unrest in our nation? Where is Christ in this chaos that has become a part of our daily lives?
As I contemplated these questions, one answer came to mind. Christ is in His people. If you are a believer in Christ, the Spirit of Christ, also known as the Holy Spirit, lives within you.
You may feel alone in this situation. But if your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19), the truth is you are never completely alone. Through His Spirit, we are strengthened and empowered to be His hands and feet to those around us. We are encircled by His love – yes, Paul told us in Ephesians that we KNOW the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.
“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:14-19
The Spirit of Christ is also available to direct our path, to tell us where to go and where not to go.
“And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.” Acts 16:6-7 ESV
And if we find ourselves in a situation we can find no way out of, He is able to deliver us.
“What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance,” Philippians 1:18-19
And finally, if we feel lonely during this season on “social distancing” we can be confident that Jesus Christ doesn’t practice social distancing. He is always as close as our breath. And the writer of Hebrews promises that He will never leave or forsake us.
“Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?'”Hebrews 13:5-6
So the next time you look for Christ, take a look at your brothers and sisters whom you’ve been meeting across a Zoom screen during this season when we haven’t been able to gather in person. And take a look in your mirror. We are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus during this difficult time, as the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, works through us to touch others. How are you doing that in the place where Jesus currently has you? And how have others been Christ for you during this difficult season?
I want to close with a short prayer that I heard this morning, from Pastor Chris Shook of Church of the Woodlands in the Houston area. I’ve been watching her encouraging morning devotions, and her prayer this morning fits perfectly with this post.
“Lord, fill me up with You, so I can pour Your presence out on others.” Amen!
As human beings, we were created for connection. God made this truth clear from the Garden of Eden when He said, “It is not good that man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18).
Many verses remind us that we are never completely alone if we have surrendered our lives to God. His promise to Moses is one of my favorites: “My presence will gowith you, and I will give you rest” (Exodus 33:24). But this doesn’t eliminate our need for human connection.
One of the most frequently used phrases in the New Testament is “one another.” Here are just a few of the “one another’s” in the Epistles.
Romans 12:10 says we are to “love one another with brotherly affection.”
2 Corinthians 13:11 encourages us to “comfort one another.”
Galatians 6:2 says we are to “bear one another’s burdens.”
Ephesians 4:32 tells us to “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
1 Thessalonians 5:11 says we are to “encourage one another and build oneanother up.”
Hebrews 10:24 instructs us to “stir up one another to love and good works.”
Without meaningful connection to God and others, our quality of life will diminish. But with the recent changes in our daily lives as we’ve walked through months of social distancing, quarantine and isolation, loneliness has been an even bigger issue for more of us to deal with.
From a physical health standpoint, these are necessary health measures, especially for those of us who are vulnerable because of chronic illness or age. But from a mental health vantage point, they have resulted in increased anxiety and greater loneliness.
I think one of the most difficult things I’ve dealt with since gathering in large groups became unsafe has been the fact that it is currently unsafe to meet in the church building. Our church has gone out of the way to keep us connected, with Sunday morning and Wednesday evening services, plus a variety of other ways for us to “get together” while physically separated.
Our church is big – many thousand members – so connection is an issue our leaders take serious. We have over fifty adult small groups to choose from, which we call iConnect groups, to help us “find the little church inside the big church” as we connect with God and others. Even though we can’t meet in person during this pandemic, our iConnect group has been meeting weekly via ZOOM for fellowship and teaching.
Hebrews 10:24-25 tells us, “And let us considerhow to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Social distancing has made it impossible to meet in person right now, but we are still able to find ways to stay connected.
What ways have you found during this COVID-19 pandemic to stay connected? Have you found ways to minister to the needs of “one another” as listed earlier? Remember, the church is made up of people, not buildings. How has this season affected your relationship with the Lord? Your church? Your family? Your friends? Consider these questions in prayer.
Easter is the most important event in the Christian faith. Normally Easter Sunday sees church buildings filled, often with the largest attendance of the year, as believers gather together to celebrate the resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead.
The word “Easter” does not appear in the Bible, but what it commemorates is clearly Scriptural. Easter week is a time when Christians celebrate the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It begins with what we know as Palm Sunday, and event described in all four gospels.
THE TRIUMPHAL ENTRY
John 12:12-15 has one of the accounts of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
“The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!’ And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, ‘Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!’”
THE LAST SUPPER
The last supper that Jesus had with His disciples was His celebration with them of the Passover Feast. After partaking together of the Passover meal, Jesus initiated what we now know was the Lord’s Supper or Communion.
“Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.’” Matthew 26:26-29
Passover is the Jewish commemoration of God’s liberating the Israelites from Egyptian slavery, as described in Exodus 11 and 12. When Moses went to Pharaoh asking him to let the people go and Pharaoh did not agree to do so, God sent ten plagues against Egypt designed to make Pharaoh change his mind. The first nine did not change Pharaoh’s mind.
The final plague was the destruction of the firstborn of all the people and animals. The Israelites were commanded by God to take the blood of a one year old lamb without blemish and smear it on the doorposts of their houses. When God saw the blood, He would “pass over” that house.
The first Passover is described in Exodus 12:8. “They shall eat the flesh (of the Passover lamb) that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it.” This was the night before the exodus from Egypt, and from the first anniversary of their deliverance from the slavery of Egypt the Jewish people have celebrated Passover in remembrance of God’s faithfulness to them.
1 Corinthians 5:7 identifies Christ as our Passover Lamb. He is the spotless Lamb of God, whose blood covers the sin of those who believe in Him, causing God’s judgment to pass over them.
“Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.”
THE GARDEN OF GETHSEMANE
After celebrating Passover with His disciples, Jesus left to go to Mount of Olives, to an area known as the Garden of Gethsemane. As was His custom, Jesus went to pray and His disciples followed him. This event is found in all four gospels, but Matthew gives the most detailed account.
“Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here, while I go over there and pray.’ And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.’ And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.’ And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, ‘So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, ‘My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.’ And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again.” (Matthew 26:36-44)
In this passage, we see the humanness of Jesus showing through. In His flesh, He did not want to go to the cross. But He was willing to do the will of the Father. Before He and the disciples were able to leave the garden, the story takes a major shift. It is now time to face the suffering ahead of Him. Matthew’s account closes with these words.
“Then he came to the disciples and said to them, ‘Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” (Matthew 26:45-46)
Matthew closes his account with some of the saddest words of Scripture, “Then allthe disciples left him andfled.” (Matthew 26:56b)
What we know as Good Friday commemorates the day of Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross. On that day, the wrath of God against sin was poured out on Jesus, the perfect sacrificial substitute, making a way for us to be forgiven and receive salvation. He became the final sacrifice for sins. The writer of the book of Hebrews summarizes it in these words, “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God,” (Hebrews 10:12).
Through Christ’s offering of Himself, the penalty of sin has been paid. There is nothing we can do to earn salvation. It is available as a gift of grace to all who believe and receive forgiveness. And that’s why we can call this day GOOD!
In this time of “Social distancing” and “stay at home orders” due to the coronavirus, our Easter celebrations will be different this year. Most of us will not able to gather in our church buildings, but Easter will still be celebrated. Churches around the globe will be unable to meet in their buildings, but the church is more than buildings. The true church is made up of people, and as Sunday morning comes instead of being gathered in a few buildings we will be gathering in our homes.
While we may grieve that we are unable to celebrate the resurrection together this year, what will not be stripped away is the truth that we have a risen Savior. While we may not be able to gather in our church buildings, this year we will be the church scattered on digital platforms around the world.
When Sunday morning comes, I hope to be sitting beside my husband in our living room, watching the live broadcast of our church’s Easter service on my iPad. Then we will tune into a Zoom broadcast so we can spend Easter with some of our dearest friends, our small group from our church, separate for safety but together in Spirit.
No, this Easter won’t be like those in past years. But it will still be a time of celebrating our resurrected Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And as we move forward into the next week of this season of social distancing and staying at home, I want to remember an important truth. If Christ conquered the grave, surely He has the power to conquer this tiny virus that has caused drastic changes in our lives for the last few weeks.
I also want to remember that neither locked doors nor overwhelming fear are an obstacle for our risen Lord. On the evening of the very first Easter, Jesus’ disciples were paralyzed by fear, hiding away in self-preservation so that the religious and government leaders who crucified Jesus wouldn’t be able to do the same thing to them. But Jesus came to them, through the locked doors and in spite of their fear.
John 20:19 says, “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’”
Our risen Savior Jesus Christ is our source of hope and peace in a world filled with fear and anxiety, one that is groping in the darkness for peace! Let’s put our trust in the One who conquered death and rose again. And then let’s look around us where people are desperate for the peace and hope we have in Christ. We have the answer so many are looking for, and there is no better time than Easter to share it.
Jesus’ resurrection is our living hope. See this pandemic as an opportunity to move beyond the closed doors of our churches and share the Good News with those who have no where to turn for hope or peace in this pandemic. Let’s be the hands and feet of Jesus and share the hope and peace we have in our resurrected Lord.
Earlier this year, officials at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned that it wasn’t a question of if but of when the novel coronavirus would spread in the United States. They warned that the spread of this disease would drastically change our daily lives. In this past two weeks, we have seen what was expected and more.
The spread of this virus has been not just in the US, but around the world. No matter where you live, you have probably experienced major changes in your daily life. Unfamiliar terms have become commonplace: pandemic, self-quarantine, social distancing, lockdown, shelter in place or stay at home orders. Non essential medical procedures have been put on hold. Churches are now restricted to internet broadcasts of services. Grocery stores are lacking the things we routinely buy, from milk and eggs to toilet paper and sanitizer products. And the list goes on and on.
We are living in a drastically different world, with no idea if or when we will return to the world we once knew. The Coronavirus Pandemic has produced a “new normal” for all of us!
The question on my heart as I’ve walked through these last two weeks has been how does God want us to live during times like these? In an atmosphere of fear and panic, how can we walk in a way that both enables us to have joy and peace and also draws others to the God we serve? This was on my heart when I sat down on Monday for my daily quiet time.
I had my quiet time all mapped out, but as I sat down to spend time in God’s Word the Holy Spirit led me in a different direction than I had planned. In essence, the Lord led me to a verse providing the instruction I was needing to walk in peace and victory during this unique season none of us have ever experienced before. As I was reading Romans 12, a familiar passage, verse 12 jumped out at me like I had never seen it before.
“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” Romans 12:12
REJOICE IN HOPE
To rejoice is to be in a state of happiness and inner sense of well being that is not affected by outward circumstances. It is to be “cheer” full, calmly happy. Rejoicing includes both inner joy and outward rejoicing.
The Greek word translated “rejoice” is in the present tense. It paints a picture of living with a habitual attitude of inner joy that results in outer rejoicing. Joy is the deep-down sense of well-being that abides in the heart of the person who knows all is well between them and the Lord and is independent of whether circumstances are favorable or unfavorable.
God is not asking us to rejoice in our circumstances. He is calling us to rejoice in Him in the midst of the circumstances. We do that as we walk in anticipation of what He is able to do in them, through them, and in spite of them.
According to Psalm 118:24, rejoicing is an act of our will, a choice we make. “This is the day the LORD has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it.”
Our rejoicing is to be in hope. Worldly or cultural hope is an optimistic desire that something we desire will happen. Biblical or Christian hope is different. It is the assurance that God will do what He has promised. This is the only kind of hope that has the power to anchor our souls, holding us steady during times of uncertainty. It is the kind of hope described in Hebrews 6:19, “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul…”
BE PATIENT IN TRIBULATION
The Greek word translated “patient” literally means “to stay under”. And what are we to stay under? Pressure or pressing circumstances. Sounds a lot like our daily lives since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic. This is basically a call to stand firm in our faith when circumstances feel overwhelming.
Persevering when you are experiencing crushing circumstances is not a call for you to just “man up” or to “grit your teeth” and “bear it.” That is the “world’s way” of dealing with difficult situations.
As followers of Christ, the answer is not found in self-reliance and self-effort. If you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, the Holy Spirit now indwells your body (see 1 Corinthians 6:19). He came to be your Helper in situations like the one we are currently walking through. He provides what is needed for us to walk through difficult circumstances, as we yield to His supernatural enabling power.
Rejoicing in hope enables us to persevere or remain under the circumstances that are pressing down on us. As we lean on the Helper, we are empowered to wait calmly as the Lord works everything in conformity with the purpose of His will.
BE CONSTANT IN PRAYER
Someone has said that prayer is the breath of the Christian life. There is nothing more more vital to living a victorious Christian life than prayer. Unfortunately, few aspects of the lives of Christians are more vulnerable to neglect.
Prominent nineteenth century American evangelist Dwight L Moody said, “I’d rather be able to pray than to be a great preacher; Jesus Christ never taught his disciples how to preach, but only how to pray.”
Charles Spurgeon, England’s best known preacher during the second half of the nineteenth century and known as “the prince of preachers,” said prayer and an open Bible together were the key to bringing the will of God to bear upon the distresses of this life.
“Whenever your hope seems to fail you and your joy begins to sink, the shortest method is to take to your knees. By remembering the promise in prayer, hope will be sustained and then joy is sure to spring from it. An open Bible and a bowed head create a powerful atmosphere in which God’s will is brought to bear upon the distresses of life. Jesus even recommended we “nag” God with our requests, like a persistent neighbor at a friend’s door or a relentless widow harassing a presiding judge.”
GOD IS THE GOD OF HOPE In Romans 15, the apostle Paul shares a Messianic prophecy from the prophet Isaiah. He says, “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope.” The following verse gives a name of God that is only seen in this passage. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Romans 15:12-13 ESV)
Biblical hope is found in a person, the root of Jesse, the One we know as Jesus Christ. He is the foundation upon which our hope is built, and He has promised to return for His body, the church. We are “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:13-14 ESV) That truth keeps us firmly anchored as we go through hard times.
One powerful way to pray is to use God’s own words to seek His help in situations that we are powerless to change. We are enabled to rejoice in hope when we remember that our God is the God of hope. He is the foundation upon which our hope is build. And his desire is to fill us “to the brim” with peace and joy.
Are you feeling discouraged, fearful, anxious about what lies ahead? Let’s take our petitions to “the God of hope” and leave the burden on His shoulders. Let’s with confidence draw near to God’s throne of grace, that each of us may receive the mercy and grace to help us walk through this time of need (Hebrews 4:16).
My prayer for you today comes from Romans 15:13 (NLT): “I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.”