For the last couple of days I’ve been prayerfully pondering what to share with you this week. There are a myriad of directions we could go, but I felt such a quietening of the Holy Spirit …like a hush to my soul.
I think the Lord is sharing that many of us are still processing the shock and ever changing directives as to how we live life since Covid-19 virus started. And be assured that that is ok. We all adjust at different speeds to disruptions, especially to something that has had worldwide impact and is a threat to people’s lives. A natural response is to operate on auto pilot in looking at different ways of doing church and pastoring, etc. Just make sure that in looking to meet the needs of others, you don’t neglect your own. Carve out some still quiet moments with God to contemplate and pray.
Over the last few years ESPS. Ministries have sought to bring you encouragement and spiritual support. This is not changing. Some people are already talking about the new ways we may do church when all this is over. These are good conversations to be had, but I’m not sure we are quite there yet. I think as ‘shepherds’, many need time to grieve the sudden loss of congregational contact and all that it entails. We pray for you all in the transition to this ‘new normal’. May God give you grace for the ‘immediate family only’ funerals you have to conduct, the distant pastoral support, the spiritual comfort for the sick and dying that you cannot visit, etc. God knows.
As the days and weeks go by we will certainly grow in peace and perspective and start to be confident and creative in new ways of doing church and being the church. For now, at the end of this first week of widespread self-isolation and social distancing, know that God has got you, and your family, your congregation, your community, and our world.
The beautiful psalm 91 has been posted everywhere since this pandemic started, and rightly so. Keep reading it and praying it in these days and especially in your quiet place.
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD , “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”(Psalm 91v1-2)
**Please check our website (www.espsministries.org) at the start of next week for the new ways of encouragement and support we are putting in place for you. **
What a day we’re living in! None of us could have foreseen the events of recent weeks. What comfort and strength we take from the fact that none of what is happening is a surprise to God. He is Alpha and Omega, He knows the beginning and the end. Be re-assured then that just as He sees all that is unfolding before us, and just as He sees the increasing needs around us, that He knows what you and I need. He wants you and I and His people (our churches) to walk close with Him, that in doing so we will communicate in life and in action that His perfect love casts out all fear.
I see on the Government’s official list of key workers released yesterday is a list of those who need to keep working so the country keeps moving forward. On that list are ‘religious staff!’ That’s you and me! (Key public services –This includes those essential to the running of the justice system, religious staff, charities and workers delivering key frontline services, those responsible for the management of the deceased, and journalists and broadcasters who are providing public service broadcasting.)
Just as the Government is aware of the frontline role we as pastors have to play at this time, then so is God. His promise to us is that ‘Faithful is He who calls, who will also equip!’ (1 Thess 5v18) If even now you feel a bit overwhelmed with the crisis unfolding around us, we need to be reminded of the words of Jesus when in calling His first disciples He gave them His main priority for our lives.
He appointed twelve–designating them apostles –that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons. (Mark 3v4-15)
Did you notice it? He called His first disciples and told them your first and main priority is ‘that you might be with me!’ So to encourage and strengthen you today, here’s three thoughts from me as to how we can not just look to survive this current crisis, but how with God’s help we as pastors and our churches can thrive in the midst of the crisis.
The first piece of advice is aligned to the words of Jesus we’re just read. He wants you to self-care. The best way for us to do this is by spending time with Him.
As we spend time with Jesus, as we self-care, we’ll then be more than ready to care for others, beginning with our own families, and then the church family, and then our communities. To self-care is not being selfish, it’s being wise!!
We’re all familiar with the Air Steward’s advice when we get on to a plane. ‘Please fit your own oxygen mask first before assisting anyone else!’ This is sound advice for us. George Mueller (1805-1898) built many orphanages at Ashley Down, England. Without a personal salary, he relied only on God to supply the money and food needed to support the hundreds of homeless children he befriended in the name of Christ. A man of radiant faith, he kept a motto on his desk for many years that brought comfort, strength, and uplifting confidence to his heart. It read, “It matters to Him about you.” Mueller believed that those words captured the meaning of 1 Peter 5:7 ‘Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.’
I wonder do you need to take comfort and strength from the words that blessed Mueller? It matters to God about you!! Take comfort and strength from these words and remember Jesus first priority for us all whom He has called is to ‘be with Him!’
Secondly, with God’s help and through relying on God’s strength, this is a time for us to care for our congregations. We may have a sense of fear or even dread at the unfolding of this crisis. Be assured that such an emotion will be felt even more keenly by others, especially those who are most vulnerable in our churches. Elderly, children, mental health issues, addictions, etc. The list goes on.
The apostle Peter gives us this instruction, To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers–not because you must, but because you are willing (1 Peter 5v2-3)
Let me remind you that as teaching elders we have a responsibility not to look to do all the work of meeting the needs of our congregations, but to mobilise and call others to do the work with us. One example of this for us is that we have a senior lady who is in her 70’s. For years she has been our main contact and rallying point for the seniors in our church. I’ve allocated an elder to work with her in supporting our seniors during this time. Part of this provision is to give every one of them a phone call once a week to see how they’re doing and to ask them if there is anything we can do to help them practically? We’re also offering a shopping and delivery service for any of our over 70’s who need it. Times of crisis provide us with times of opportunity. One positive thing already coming out of this difficult time is our looking to mobilize the whole family of God to look out for and look after the people of God. Praise God this is being seen in church and in community.
Finally, ask for God’s help and direction in how you can care for your community.
The needs around us are vast, and there is no way we can respond to every need that arises. We can however meet some needs and play our part on serving our communities and partnering with other agencies to do the same.
In the familiar story of Jesus feeding the 5000 he sent the disciples out to see what they had that He could work with to help meet the physical needs of the crowd. As we know He took a little boys packed lunch and performed a miracle through it.
In Exodus 4v2 we have God calling and commissioning Moses. As He does He asks Him ‘What is that in your hand?’ The implication being God had already given to Moses what He needed to serve God and bless God’s people. We need to be encouraging our people that we all have something we can contribute to help meet the current needs and serve the community that is round us.
I believe whole-heartedly that this time in the life of our nation, when there is so much fear, uncertainty, and need around us, that this could be the church’s finest hour in recent times. We are to be that light in the darkness. We are to be that city on a hill that God uses to inspire hope and life in others. We are to engage in good deeds, that in doing so, people will see them and be led to worship God as a result. (Matthew 5v14-16)
Last Sunday I shared with my own congregation the challenging yet inspiring words of A.W. Tozer – ‘A frightened world needs a fearless church!’
I pray that God will give us all the grace and courage to be such a people. That in a day when people can’t ‘go to church’, that we’ll ‘be the church’, and in being obedient to Christ’s call on us and command to us that we’ll love Him, love one another, and love our neighbour!
I pray for God’s blessings and peace to be with you and yours
In all my years I have never seen this kind of panic related to the potential spread of an illness. The kind of panic and fear I observe regularly on the faces of the public almost rivals what I observed when I was in Manhattan after the Twin Towers were toppled and the Pentagon attacked on Sept. 11, 2001! As always, I try to ponder how the church should respond during these experiences.
The following are 10 things the church must do during this present global situation:
1/ Discern between political hyperbole and reality.
I am amazed with how opportunistic so many political leaders are during this crisis! Unfortunately, the media usually garners followers by sensationalizing everything that happens so as to drive traffic toward their platform (to acquire more advertising sponsors).
The church has to learn to see beyond groupthink, politics and media, and discern the difference between hype and reality.
2/ Teach public and private health.
The church has an obligation to post relative information related to public health measures that must be practiced to curtail the spread of the virus. Since the body of Christ has consistent, weekly gatherings, it is a matter of stewardship that we cooperate with reasonable guidelines disseminated by public health and city officials.
3/ Pray for the opportunity to share the gospel with people afraid of dying.
This is an amazing opportunity to share the gospel of Jesus! Jesus has already destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. (See 2 Tim. 1:10.) Times like these confront humanity with their own mortality and force them to think about eternity.
True Christ followers should have no fear of death; consequently, everyone we meet walking in fear should be a candidate to hear the gospel during these days.
4/ Earnestly fast and pray for a global spiritual awakening.
The whole world, with its vast scientific, technological advances and burgeoning affluence, is being confronted with their frailty and fragility. They continually find out that there are many things that are beyond their control! I believe the time is ripe for a global “Great Awakening,” as the pride of humanity is being brought low and masses of people are being unsettled by this virus and other huge challenges.
5/ Pray for our nation’s leaders.
One of the primary things all churches should do when they gather is pray for our political leaders (see 2 Tim. 2:1-4). The potential problems associated with a pandemic are way beyond the scope of their learning and expertise.
The present issues related to public health are negatively affecting global travel, the stock market, numerous businesses and national security. In light of all this, it is very difficult to plan for adequate contingencies. Now, more than ever, the body of Christ needs to intercede for leaders and believe that God will grant them a spirit of humility, cooperation (instead of political competition) and wisdom as they interface with experts in the fields of health, national security, commerce and international relations.
6/ Care for vulnerable church members.
The Bible makes it clear that the church is called to do good to all men—but especially to the household of faith (see Gal. 6:10). We especially need to look out for older and disabled church members who do not have the adequate resources from family members to get by. We also have to make sure they have adequate food and hygienic supplies if panic shopping precludes their ability to purchase these necessities.
7/ Look for ways to love our neighbor.
In every community there are vulnerable people. During a panic, the population goes into survival mode and its default position is “every man is for himself.” We need to look out for ways to behave differently from the world in this present distress. Part of how we can do this is by making sure the elderly, disabled and other groups of vulnerable people have all they need regarding food, toiletries and care.
In the midst of this atmosphere, believers can shine like bright lights to the world (see Phil. 2:15) as they put others before themselves and mimic the attitude of the Lord Jesus (see Phil. 2:4-12).
8/ Proactively learn preventative health, not only divine healing.
I rarely get sick—even if I am around people who have the flu and other contagious ailments. In 36 plus years of overseeing a local church, I have never missed a Sunday service because of a sickness. This is because—as a matter of godly stewardship—I have taken the time to study nutrition, get enough sleep, exercise regularly and practice regular fasting.
Most of the deaths from the coronavirus are among those who already had underlying health issues, whose immune system was already compromised. Consequently, the average person who is constantly eating processed food, snacking in between their (many) meals, as well as eating late at night, will compromise their immune system. This is because much of our body’s energy is going toward digesting food; hence, if your body’s energy is depleted, it doesn’t have enough in the tank to restore itself and focus on fighting off sickness and disease.
Also, if you are consuming a lot of animal-based products and processed food, it takes a huge toll on your body, since these are difficult to digest (which leads to inflammation, which is the root cause of cancer, arthritis and other serious maladies).
The plant-based diet of Genesis 1:29 is actually the “species specific” diet God granted to human beings. Thankfully, more and more scientific studies are confirming the amazing health benefits of this diet. (Out of the numerous studies there are now some compelling documentaries, such as The Game Changers on Netflix, Fork Over Knives, as well as countless others (Dr. Jason Fung is known as a health expert on the benefits of water fasting and there are numerous videos of his teaching on YouTube).
Consequently, I only eat two to three meals per day, with no eating in between meals, and I fast about 15-20 hours most days. I have enough energy to keep a demanding schedule while participating in rigorous physical training. This discipline related to my biological health enables me to frequently travel, write, preach, pray and spend quality time with my family in spite of the fact that I am over 60 years old. Also, if a person wants to take further precaution before traveling and going into a public space, taking strong probiotics first thing in the morning and having adequate doses of Vitamin C may aid in immunity enhancement.
Unfortunately, many believers think they can violate natural law and live recklessly because they can pray for divine healing. However, the same God who said “I am the Lord who heals you” (Ex. 15:26) is the same God who gave us species specific guidelines related to diet (Gen. 1:29). Although I am a huge proponent of divine healing, I also believe it is a matter of stewardship to do our part in caring for our physical health.
9/ Stay on top of current events.
The church is called to function on the leading edge of proactive prophetic action as well as rapid response. In order to function this way, we need to operate similar to the “sons of Issachar,” who were men who understood the times and knew what Israel should do (see 1 Chr. 12:32). Consequently, every believer has to be regularly informed regarding current events and be mobilized to serve in the workplace, not just within church buildings.
10/ Fear not!
With the nonstop panic being generated by incessant media hype related to the spread of the coronavirus, the general populace is engulfed with a spirit of fear. This is an opportune time for Christ followers to arise and be the exemplars who operate in faith and wisdom instead of fear.
How can we do this? Is it because believers embrace a form of fideism or mysticism, or is our faith rooted in reality?
Scripture makes it clear that we are to “fear not” and that God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, of love and of a sound mind (see Isa. 41:10 and 2 Tim. 1:7). This is because believers are rooted and grounded in the God of creation who alone should be their trust, fortress and foundation of faith. Hence, since we are grounded in the One who created the cosmos, we are commanded to fear not, even when the earth is quaking and unstable (see Ps. 46). Moreover, because Jesus conquered death through His resurrection and has the keys of hell and death, He also tells His followers to “fear not”! (See Revelation 1:17-18).
In conclusion, Christ followers are not to fear what the world fears (see Jer. 10:2) and are not to be conformed to this world system (Rom. 12:1-2). Whenever a global crisis breaks out, the church is called to discern the times, know what to do, and function as the salt of the earth and light of the world.
This article originally appeared here –
I think when I was a younger Christian and then when I became a young rookie minister, I somehow picked up the idea that faithfulness in a calling meant doing the same thing forever.
That was not the case for Ezekiel. The whole of his life as a child, a teenager and a young adult was dominated by the call to be a priest, serving in the temple in Jerusalem. However in the year of his 30th birthday, the appointed time for him to begin his priestly duties, he found himself in exile in Babylon. There, the man living for so long under a call to be a priest had fresh visions of God and was called to be a Prophet. His ministry as a Prophet still continues today in the form of his rather wonderful but definitely weird book.
Continuing faithfulness in the one direction is a good thing, but the experience of Ezekiel reminds us that God may call us to make a switch in direction and accept a new commission, a new call from Him.
Are you open to being surprised by God? Open to doing something radically different? Perhaps He is beckoning to you right now, but you are refusing his invitation mistaking it as a temptation into unfaithfulness or disobedience?
Let me earth this in less lofty terms as to what that can look like. In Shotts Prison at the Church service this week I was talking to one of the remarkable volunteer church visitors. She is retired and simply made this comment: “I never intended to do this when I retired. I just somehow found myself doing it and giving more and more time to it, and don’t quite know how, but I love it.” Her eyes were full of light, love, emotion and excitement as she spoke. It was a bit like Ezekiel is very humble guise. At a time of her life, in her case Retirement, which she had maybe pondered and imagined in the years leading up to it, all of a sudden things were other than she had imagined.
Has something come to an end for you? Has a door shut that you had hoped would open. That may be where a fresh adventure in God awaits you!
What it means to be a disciple can best be understood around the unfathomable mystery of the incarnation. God took on human flesh. God invaded our planet and forever changes it. God became incarnate. He took on human flesh in a way that is shocking, raw and physically tangible. God knew there was no better way to show human beings than by fully entering their world- physically and emotionally. God took on skin and flesh for us.
Ronald Rolheiser powerfully illustrates why:-
There is a marvellous story about a 4yr old girl who awoke one night frightened- convinced that in the darkness around her were all kinds of spooks and monsters. Alone, she ran to her parents’ bedroom. Her mother calmed her down, and taking her hand, led her back to her own room, where she put on a light and reassured the child with these words ”You needn’t be afraid, you are not alone here. God is in the room with you.” The child replied, “ I know that God is here, but I need someone in the room who has skin!”
God knows we needed His skin, not simply the knowledge that He is everywhere. People today are desperate for ‘skin’ – to be loved, for someone to be incarnate with them. For this reason they will pay $100 to $150 an hour to a therapist as someone to love them, to enter and to care about their world.
Today, God still has physical skin that can be seen, touched, heard and tasted. How? Through his body, the church in whom He dwells. We are called, in the name of Jesus and by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to be skin for people all around us.
Peter Scazzerro – from his book “The Emotionally Healthy Church.
It’s good to desire wisdom. It’s an admirable and much needed trait for life.
Wisdom is defined in the Cambridge dictionary as “the ability to use your knowledge and experience to make good decisions and judgements.” A great attribute for sure. But how much greater is Godly wisdom, which is a wisdom that doesn’t come from who we are in and of ourselves - but it comes from God and reflects Him.
Every Christian and follower of Jesus should seek to walk in Godly wisdom. The Bible is full of references to wisdom and the Book of Proverbs is saturated with such. It matters to God that we operate in a wisdom that is so much more than our own thoughts and words. It is words accompanied from a life bearing good fruit by walking close with God and learning to hear and heed His voice.
Being in ministry and Christian leadership doesn’t guarantee that we operate in Godly wisdom. All too often we can make decisions as teams, as a leadership, and as individuals in line with what we think is right, without even laying the issues before God. We need be pursuers of the King of Kings.
Perhaps we need to be more attentive to the quiet place. A pause place before God where we can take time to seek Him and His heart, so that we may be in His will for what we are putting our hand to in His name!
Here’s some helpful wisdom from Ralph Emerson ‘Let us be silent that we might hear the whisper of God.’
King Solomon delighted the heart of God when God invited him to ask for anything his heart desired, and Solomon asked for the gift of Godly wisdom. (1 Kings 3: 4-14)…It’s incredible to see recorded for us, God’s pleasure and response in this request.
“The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. 11 So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be.”
We would be wise to ask accordingly!
One way to grow in Godly wisdom is simply by reading a chapter of proverbs every day. I heard Dr RT Kendall at a conference many years ago say that the book of Proverbs was his daily reading book. A chapter for each day of the month. Over and over and over again as it is packed with nuggets and gems for Godly living that enable us to walk in wisdom.
As we prayerfully pursue wisdom that is not of this world, the fruit will be evident in our lives and will be a blessing to God and others - James 3v17. “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.”
May we be bearers and sharers of such wonderful attributes, and be influencers in this world as those who reflect our Heavenly Father and the beauty of His Kingdom.