Coronavirus and Community

Forty-five days. This is how long I have been working from home. Forty-five days, most of them with a “work or home” order in place. Over forty-five days of not being able to gather in person with our church or with the students in the student ministry.

By God’s grace, it seems we’re reaching the point where restrictions are beginning to loosen, with the hope that the virus is abating. At the same time, it also seems the restrictions are being loosened because quarantine fatigue is beginning to have an effect on those abiding by these orders. A recent article shared many experts’ anxiety over this fatigue, as data showed people leaving their homes more and more despite the orders put in place by state and federal governments.

The effects that come from a lack of social interaction include an increase in depression and anxiety. To help fill in what’s missing a large number of people have turned to the use of technology designed to connect people virtually. Companies like Zoom, which was previously only used by a small percentage of the population, is now commonly used among a large number of American households. The virus, and measures introduced to slow its spread, have drastically simplified life in our culture, pulling the curtain back to reveal universal truths about who we are and how we were created.

One of God’s gifts of common grace to the world is the desire for community. He’s wired each and every one of us with a longing for a place where we belong. Deep within us, we all desire interaction with others. We desire interaction with one another, and deep relationships where we can be known and loved. While the intensity of this desire may change depending on the person, the age of social distancing has shown just how ubiquitous the desire is.

Community is an essential component in our growth as Believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. This is one of the reasons why “receiving Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior” is an issue. While salvation involves taking responsibility for one’s own sin, repenting, and trusting Christ for forgiveness on a personal level, the Bible is clear that we have been redeemed to a community of believers.

Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

1 Peter 2:10

During the birth of the church in the beginning of the book of Acts, those who repented and trusted in Christ immediately came together as a community:

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common.

Acts 2:42-44

As society begins to slowly return to the way things were before, now is the time for us to take an honest look at what we’ve prioritized and return back to what God has called us to be: a community of believers built on the foundation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Now is the time to simplify. Now is the time to push back against the idea of church as an experience. Now is the time to encourage others to trust Jesus for salvation and come into the community of God’s people. Then- and only then- will we find the deep community our souls long for.

Why the Hiatus?

In late March, I produced a series of blogs to get resources into the hands of youth pastors and others who might need it. Though most of the ideas weren’t original, it was an opportunity to share what we were doing in our student ministry, with the hopes of helping others think creatively about reaching their students. For all of us in ministry, our strategies to engage teenagers and their families had to change in an incredibly short amount of time. My hope was to spark conversations to help us find ways to do exactly that.

A short time later, I stopped posting on the blog. Part of it was a desire to stay on top of those things most important- adjusting my own strategies for equipping families and reaching students. For our congregation, I wanted and needed the additional time to work together with the rest of the staff to reach out to members who are more at-risk. My priorities adjusted, as they often do in these “war-time” situations. In this case, the battle was against an enemy that is invisible, but still dangerous.

As my priorities adjusted, I began to reconsider my motivation behind writing. What was I trying to accomplish? When I originally started the blog, I wanted to give a place to formulate my thoughts. I wanted to spark conversations. I wanted to give people things to think about. As the weeks went on, I realized my desire to accomplish these things was still there. It continued to grow stronger. More than ever, I was given issues to think and write about.

Today, many of us aren’t able to physically meet with our students. Our gatherings look much different as we use the internet as a means to send content to families and interact with those in the ministry. In the midst of the difficulties of this season, we’re in a time of great opportunity. We can examine nearly every aspect of our ministries to think about what purpose they serve, and how they can help equip students and families to grow in their knowledge of and love for the Lord.

Starting this week, I’m going to be working on restoring the normal schedule to the site- a youth ministry post on Monday, articles I’ve been reading through the week on Wednesday, and a more personal post on Friday. Some of the posts may seem like they’re more applicable to “normal” times (if there even is such a thing). My hope is these posts would challenge us to reexamine every area of our lives. We have more time than ever to reevaluate and create a plan to adjust strategies for our lives, our families, and our ministry to others. Let’s make the most of it together. After all, we point to God as those who are saved by the life, death, and resurrection of Christ- a glorious redemption.

Loving God in the Ordinary

Sometimes, we reach the point where life feels like it’s filled with nothing but Tuesdays. The days are ordinary. Nothing special is happening. We don’t dread the day like we would a Monday, and we don’t really have too much to be excited about like a Friday. The day is what it is. Which leads us to the question: how can we find joy on the Tuesdays? How do we love God in the ordinary?

Part of the reason why I ask this question is because I’m consistently seeking to push my students towards loving God and making much of Him in the ordinary. One of my biggest goals for my life and those in my ministry is to destroy the divide we place between the sacred and the secular. Sunday worship is meant to spill into Monday-Saturday life.

One of the ways we can push back against this separation mentality is by seeing our primary identity as Believers in Jesus. So, before we are a husband, wife, or single, we are a follower of Jesus. Before we are a mother or father, we are a follower of Jesus. Before we are a student or work somewhere, we are a follower of Jesus. All of these things are secondary to who we are in light of the gospel.

When we begin to live this way, we’ll begin to live in the way God has intended for us to live. We begin to walk in the abundant life Christ promised to bring us in John 10:10. Suddenly, we are no longer a spouse seeking our own gratification, but a servant seeking to meet the other’s needs. Then, we begin to see our roles as parents in light of eternity, understanding that we have an opportunity to raise a child up in the faith. At school or in our job, we do all things with excellence as unto the Lord, knowing we have an opportunity to worship through this work.

It’s in living for God that we begin to find the extraordinary within the Tuesdays. As Christians, we have been invited into living for the eternal each and every day, even in the smallest things. How will you use the ordinary to love God this week?

Marriage and the Mission of Christ

This Valentine’s Day marks the fifth year my wife and I have been celebrating this holiday together. This year looks a little bit different. With a baby arriving this summer, we’re in a bit of a transition as this is the last time it’ll be just us in our family. As I look ahead at what’s to come, it gives me a good reason to pause and to look back at the wonderful story the Lord has written for us, and to look ahead with joy at what’s to come.

On our first Valentine’s Day, we had only been dating for a couple months. Everything was new to us and we were still getting to know one another. I still remember planning a surprise trip to see her since she was out of town that weekend. When I showed up with flowers and chocolate in hand, the smile on her face reminded me that she would always be the one for me.

The next year was a time of stress and anxiety for us, as we had been engaged for over two months and still hadn’t decided on a wedding date. We didn’t know what was in store for the future. I had no jobs lined up, no place to live, and I would be graduating a year before her. For a while, I thought we’d have to wait another year to get married (honestly, I prayed against it- the Lord hears our prayers!), but God provided. Even in the midst of all this, I knew she would always be the one for me.

For three years now, we’ve celebrated this day. Each year, I think about how my love for her has grown- something I didn’t realize was actually possible when I said “I do.” Marriage is interesting in that way- not filled with the drama of butterflies, but with a love that is quieter and deeper serving as a foundation for a life together can sometimes only be described as “normal”. This isn’t a bad thing, but a beautiful thing. Emotions come and go, but the covenant we made is meant to be for a lifetime.

Naturally, that’s where my mind goes next- to the lifetime in store. I don’t know what God has for us; I’m learning to trust Him more than trying to figure out what’s years down the road. But as I consider these things and think ahead, I want this marriage to be marked by faithfulness. I want to look across the table at my bride in ten years, knowing that she’s the one. Then twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, and even more. One day, I want to look into her eyes, think of all the memories we’ve shared, and be able to say “We did it.”

I know it will be no small accomplishment to remain faithful. In fact, to have a marriage that stands the test of time is one of the most radical and counter-cultural things we can do as Believers in this fallen world. To be faithful is to paint a picture of a Savior who is faithful and has given Himself up for His bride, the church. This is the reminder Paul gives to husbands in Ephesians 5:

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself…This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

Ephesians 5:26-28,

These verses give me hope. These verses remind me that I can be faithful in a world where infidelity is pushed upon us from nearly every angle without ceasing. Paul’s reminder is one that shows where we can find the fullness of all our marriages are to be, but the road there isn’t easy. Christ give Himself up for us, living a perfect life and dying on the cross for us. He won the victory and purified all who would come to Him in saving faith.

Then, He empowers us. This is the beauty; this is the hope. In Christ, I’m empowered with everything I need to reach that day where I can know that we made it. Where we can smile and see how God cultivated our love for one another. He gave us everything we needed to beat the odds.

At times, it can be easy to despair what’s ahead, but if I’m honest, I’m excited. He has been faithful to us before and will be faithful in what’s to come. Our story together is a reminder of this hope.

Why I Encourage Others to Journal

I rested my pen down beside my notebook. Another year had just come to a close and I finished my last entry for the year. As I went to put the strap around the cover, I found myself looking back over the year’s events. If it wasn’t for my journal, I would have missed daily reminders of God’s faithfulness, recordings of what He was doing in my heart to teach me more about Himself, and so much more.

Journaling has been essential to helping me grow in my walk with Christ. While I understand that journaling isn’t for everyone, I love to encourage my students and those who are seeking to grow in their walk with Christ to record their journey as they go. I’ve found some great benefits to journaling:

1. Journaling gives us an opportunity to see how God has been faithful.

This particular journal covered all of 2019. In the first entry, there was no way I could predict what was going to happen over the course of the year. I had no idea how God would work to create opportunities for me to minister to others and that my family would be growing. I had no idea that God, in his infinite grace, would give me a front-row seat while a student responded to Christ in saving faith.

This journal also included high and low points in my walk with Him. Some days, it felt like the words of Scripture jumped off of the page, ripe with sweet revelation about the Father. Other days, I struggled to connect a passage to Christ or even comprehend what was happening. Still other days, I didn’t journal at all. My entries reflected life and all of its ups and downs. Looking back, my life may have ebbed and flowed, but God’s faithfulness remained. He stayed as an Anchor and constant Truth regardless of what else was happening around me.

2. Journaling helps us to meditate on Scripture.

Psalm 1 is one of my favorite passages in the Bible. Verses 1 and 2 describe the importance of meditating on the Word of God instead of the counsel of the wicked. The Psalmist says that this man mediates on the law “day and night”. This meditation leads the blessed man to delight in God’s law.

Journaling helps me carefully think about the things I’ve read in Scripture as I seek to stir my affections for the Lord. I can see what God wants to reveal to me each day by working through my thoughts and writing them down immediately after I read a passage. If I didn’t journal, I would be tempted to read the Bible and never think of it again. Journaling forces me to slow down and meditate on God’s Word, often times helping me keep the gospel and God’s promises on my mind throughout the day.

3. Journaling shows us God’s work of sanctification in our lives.

As Believers in Jesus, the Spirit reveals sin and helps us as we seek to be holy as our Father is holy. This process of becoming more like Christ is called sanctification.

I’ve found that it can be easy to get discouraged as I fight my sin. Some days, I’ll look back at old journals and see how God has led me on this battle against my sins to have more consistent victories over them. The Holy Spirit has worked in my life and led me to a place where I have overcome some sins which used to leave me paralyzed. Reading these journals reminds me that God will continue to be faithful and continue to conform me to the image of Christ as Paul describes in Romans 8:29, just as He so patiently has in my life to this point.

Journaling has had a profound impact on my life, and I believe that through this discipline, it can lead us to rejoice in rest in the God who saves us and gave His Son up for us. So I encourage you: take up a pen and a notebook. You’ll be amazed at how clearly you begin to see things when you begin to write them down.